Emily Thornberry Has Defended Labour's Controversial Twitter Attack On Rishi Sunak

Her comments follow a furious backlash from across the political spectrum.
Emily Thornberry
Emily Thornberry
Jeff Overs/BBC via Press Association Images

Emily Thornberry has defended Labour’s controversial tweet accusing Rishi Sunak of not wanting to jail child sex offenders.

The shadow attorney general said it was “legitimate” for the party to attack the government’s record on crime.

A furious row has erupted over the incendiary tweet, which was posted by Labour two days ago.

It says: “Do you think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should go to prison? Rishi Sunak doesn’t.”

The graphic includes a photo of the PM and his signature.

The claim is based on Ministry of Justice figures showing 4,500 people convicted of sexually assaulting children under the age of 16 have escaped jail under the government.

But the figures date back to 2010 – five years before Sunak even became an MP.

In an unusual move, Twitter has added a “context” note making clear the Tories do not want to end the jailing of child sex offenders.

Critics of the campaign included former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who said Labour is “better than this”.

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell also repeatedly refused to say she agreed with the ad when quizzed about it yesterday.

But appearing on Radio Four’s Any Questions programme, Thornberry said: “I heard a lot of people criticising it, and a lot of people who I like and respect criticising it and saying they felt very uncomfortable about it. Some people said that they thought it was racist.

“I have to say, I think they’re wrong. I just disagree with that. I think the truth is we do need to have a debate in this country, and Rishi Sunak is the Prime Minister and he is responsible for a broken justice system.”

Asked if she genuinely thinks Sunak held these views, Thornberry said: “If he believes that everyone responsible for child abuse should get a custodial sentence, why are so many not getting a custodial sentence?

“He is the prime minister and that is a legitimate question for the opposition to ask.”

HuffPost UK revealed yesterday that Labour was refusing to back down and was instead preparing to step up its attacks on the Tories.

Within hours, the party had posted another tweet using the same format as the previous one, this time accusing Sunak of not wanting to jail adults caught in possession of a gun.

Once again, Twitter added a “context” note making clear that “sentencing in individual criminal cases is the responsibility of the independent judiciary, not the PM”.


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