Row over Labour’s private school tax raid as Bridget Phillipson insists class sizes will not increase

Row over Labours private school tax raid as Bridget Phillipson insists class sizes will not increase
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Labour’s plan to levy VAT on private school fees will not lead to larger class sizes in the state sector, Sir Keir Starmer has insisted.

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The Labour leader slapped down his shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry, who on Sunday said ending the charitable status of private schools could lead to bigger classes.

Asked if Ms Thornberry was wrong, Sir Keir said: “Yes.” He added: “We’ve had the analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies [IFS] on this, which says that there’ll be a negligible impact. So we’re very confident about that.”

“Bridget [Phillipson] has got it right and Emily didn’t get it quite right,” Sir Keir told LBC. “Bridget is obviously the shadow secretary of state on education, and Emily just got the lines a bit wrong there.”

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Keir Starmer said Emily Thornberry had ‘got the lines a bit wrong’ when she said class sizes could go up under Labour plans
Keir Starmer said Emily Thornberry had ‘got the lines a bit wrong’ when she said class sizes could go up under Labour plans (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

Earlier in the day, Ms Phillipson said of Ms Thornberry: “I’m afraid that is not right.” The senior frontbencher added that she is happy to have a word with Ms Thornberry about the mix-up “because that is not the position”.

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The row erupted when Ms Thornberry was quizzed over Labour’s private school plan on Sunday, saying the tax hike could lead to bigger class sizes.

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Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson rejected a suggestion by her colleague, Emily Thornberry, that class sizes in state schools could grow because of Labour adding VAT to private school fees
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson rejected a suggestion by her colleague, Emily Thornberry, that class sizes in state schools could grow because of Labour adding VAT to private school fees (PA Wire)

She told GB News: “Certainly, some schools that have vacancies – my primary schools and my secondary schools have space and they’re very welcome.

“They are good schools and people should send their children there. I mean, it’s fine, and if we have to, in the short term, have larger classes, we have larger classes.”

The Conservatives immediately seized on the admission, with education secretary Gillian Keegan saying pupils would be hit by Labour’s “politics of envy”.

She said: “Today, Labour admitted their tax raid will lead to ‘larger classes’ in state schools, punishing children to pay for their plans.

“It’s not just hard-working parents who will pay the price for Labour with £2,094 of extra taxes, it’s also our children who will be impacted by Labour’s politics of envy.”

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But, unveiling plans for 3,000 new school-based nurseries on Monday, Ms Phillipson came under pressure over the apparent admission.

She said overall pupil numbers are forecast to fall in the coming years because of the declining birth rate, warning that some schools would be forced to merge or close.

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Emily Thornberry said Labour’s plans to tax private schools could lead to larger class sizes
Emily Thornberry said Labour’s plans to tax private schools could lead to larger class sizes (BBC Breakfast)

Asked specifically about whether class sizes could increase, she said: “That is not our policy … I am afraid there has been some misunderstanding there.

“Our policy will deliver high and rising standards right across our schools and will provide significant investment for early years.”

The IFS said the policy will generate roughly £1.5bn a year, which Labour plans to invest in state education, including in recruiting more teachers.

Asked if she would be having a word with Ms Thornberry about her remarks, Ms Phillipson told Times Radio: “Happy to do so, because that isn’t the position that we see at the moment.”

The row was sparked by the latest of Ms Thornberry’s gaffes.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan said Labour’s plan was the ‘politics of envy’
Education secretary Gillian Keegan said Labour’s plan was the ‘politics of envy’ (PA Wire)

She has previously apologised after busting herself for speeding, posting a picture of the speedometer in a Toyota Prius she was driving to Labour’s 2022 conference at 81mph.

And she quit the shadow cabinet in 2014 after posting a picture of a house in Rochester, Kent, adorned with England flags and with a large white van parked outside.

Alongside the tweet, sent while canvassing in a 2014 by-election, she said: “Image from Rochester.” She was accused of snobbery by the man whose house she pictured, and former Labour leader Ed Miliband said it was “condescending and disrespectful”.



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