Rishi Sunak has hit back at billionaires abandoning the Tories by saying they “can afford Labour’s tax rises” and refused to rule out working with Nigel Farage after the election.

In a bruising LBC radio phone-in, the Prime Minister was accused by callers of being a “poundshop Nigel Farage” over his behaviour towards the trans community, and being too rich to relate to food bank users.

He was asked about John Caudwell, Phones4U founder and a former major Tory donor, and Manchester United co-owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe throwing their weight behind Sir Keir Starmer’s party.

Mr Sunak replied: “They’re two of Britain’s richest men. They can probably afford Labour’s tax rises.”

The Prime Minister also claimed Labour wants to “whack taxes up for everyone” as he stepped up attacks on his rival’s plans in a desperate bid to shift the Tories’ stubborn double-digit poll deficit.

On a visit to the Sizewell B nuclear power station, he said the fall in inflation back to the 2% target was a “very positive step”.

“And it’s because that plan has worked that we’ve been able to start cutting people’s taxes,” he told broadcasters.

“In contrast, Labour would reverse the progress that we’ve made and just whack taxes up for everyone, and I don’t want to see that happen.”

Sir Keir Starmer criticised Mr Sunak for “talking nonsense” about Labour’s tax plans, telling reporters during a campaign visit to Wiltshire that the Prime Minister “should stop lecturing anybody else about the economy”.

He said Mr Caudwell’s change in support, “because he thinks we’re the party of growth and wealth creation”, is a “serious” move.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said: “If Rishi Sunak wants to do him down, that’s up to him. But we’re really proud to have the support of a former Conservative donor and one of the most successful entrepreneurs in our country.”

POLITICS Election Polls
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On the radio show, Mr Sunak dodged questions about whether he would welcome Mr Farage into the Conservative Party after the election or work with Reform UK.

“I’m not focused on after the election. I’m focused on winning this election,” the Prime Minister said.

He gave the same answer when quizzed on reports that Tory leadership hopefuls are already vying to replace him as party leader after the election.

Amid persistently low poll ratings for the Conservatives, Mr Sunak declined to give his campaign a mark out of 10, saying: “I’m not interested in those kinds of things.”

But Cabinet ministers have been ramping up warnings about a Labour landslide.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride said the Opposition could win the “largest majority virtually in the history of this country”, while Chancellor Jeremy Hunt sounded the alarm over Labour being in power for “a very long time” if they get “such a big majority”.

Facing a series of questions about what happens if the Tories are defeated, Mr Sunak insisted he would “of course” still serve for a full parliamentary term as Richmond and Northallerton’s MP.

The Prime Minister was challenged on LBC by one man, who said he is gay and living with HIV, over his behaviour towards the trans community.

The caller said “I think you’ve become a poundshop Nigel Farage” and accused Mr Sunak of being “obsessed with divisive culture wars”.

“I’m very sorry to hear you feel that way,” the Prime Minister said.

“I don’t believe that at all. I care very much about making sure people, whatever their background, are respected.”

He also said “sorry” that the Conservatives have been unable to abolish Section 21 so-called no-fault evictions despite promising to do so in their 2019 manifesto.

Mr Sunak was also confronted over the explosion in the use of food banks, with a member of the public asking him: “How can a Prime Minister who is richer than the King relate to any of our needs and struggles?”

When the Tory leader responded that he wants “to get the number down” and pointed to his work providing an “enormous amount of support to everyone” while chancellor during the pandemic, the caller said: “I think it’s an absolute lie that you supported people during Covid.”

Mr Sunak said he would not “apologise” for being “very fortunate in life”.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “Rishi Sunak’s phone-in was just an hour-long broadcast about the Conservatives’ dismal record of failure.

“From dental decay and cancer treatment, to his inability to ban no-fault evictions for renters, it’s clear that the Prime Minister is out of time and out of ideas.”

Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves
Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves during a visit to Morrisons in Wiltshire (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Meanwhile, Sir Keir described himself as a “working person” as he expanded his definition of the term.

It came after the Tories claimed the Labour leader is preparing to target savers after he previously suggested working people are those who “don’t really have the ability to write a cheque when they get into trouble”.

Sir Keir said “of course our definition covers people who’ve got savings” and that the Conservatives’ attack “has backfired spectacularly, in terms of showing just how out of touch they are”.