Seatbelts, jets and Coke: Rishi Sunak’s growing list of gaffes

The prime minister promised integrity but critics have questioned this in light of some dubious decisions

Rishi Sunak entered No 10 promising “integrity”, but was forced to apologise this week after failing to wear a seatbelt in a moving car.

It is the latest in a series of gaffes that have prompted critics to accuse him of showing “the same disregard for the rules” as his predecessor as prime minister, Boris Johnson.

Here are a few of the former chancellor’s more (and less) recent blunders:

Not wearing a seatbelt

Rishi Sunak posted a video to his Instagram account while travelling in the back of his chauffeur-driven car to promote the government’s levelling up agenda during a visit to Lancashire.

However, online observers noticed the prime minister was not wearing a seatbelt and he was consequently handed a fixed-penalty notice by Lancashire constabulary for the offence.

It makes Sunak the second prime minister in history to be given a police fine while in the top job.

The first was Johnson, who received a fine for attending Downing Street parties during Covid lockdown in what became known as the Partygate scandal.

It is also the second fixed-penalty notice Sunak has received in less than a year. He paid one as chancellor for attending a gathering to mark Johnson’s birthday during lockdown.

Taking jets to the north of England

Sunak was accused by Labour of “jetting around the country on taxpayers’ money like an A-list celeb” after he used a jet to travel to Blackpool.

The Tory MP chose not to take a train and instead took the RAF jet from Northolt to Blackpool as part of a series of visits in northern England to promote the government’s levelling up agenda.

It follows a pattern of Sunak eschewing train travel in favour of using planes for visits to the north. He used the RAF jet to travel to Scotland for the announcement of two new “green freeports”, and also for a trip to Leeds.

The Green MP Caroline Lucas said it was “utterly indefensible” for Tory ministers to make short journeys by jet.

Admitting taking funds from deprived areas

Leaked footage showed Sunak bragging to Tory party members in Tunbridge Wells that he diverted public funds from deprived urban areas to wealthy towns.

In the footage obtained by the New Statesman, the former chancellor said during his leadership campaign: “I managed to start changing the funding formulas to make sure areas like this are getting the funding they deserve.

“We inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas and that needed to be undone. I started the work of undoing that.”

Struggling to use a contactless payment card

In a PR stunt to promote a 5p cut to fuel duty, Sunak awkwardly tried to pay for a can of soft drink by scanning his bank card on a barcode reader.

To all the bitcoin hype merchants celebrating Rishi Sunak becoming U.K. PM

… let’s not forget he can barely use a contactless card.

— Joe Nakamoto (@JoeNakamoto) October 24, 2022

Sunak was widely derided on social media and later admitted that someone had to teach him how to use a contactless card machine.

“Since then, someone’s taught me how to use that contactless machine. And I tell you, it’s an amazing modern marvel this technology these days!”

‘Coke addict’

“I am a Coke addict, I am a total Coke addict,” he said in an interview with two giggling school pupils, before rapidly clarifying and explaining, in case there was any confusion, that he was “a Coca-Cola addict”.

He went on to say his favourite was “Mexican Coke”. One viewer described it as like a “scene out of The Office”.

He once said he had no working-class friends

In a 2001 BBC documentary called Middle Classes: Their Rise and Sprawl, a young Sunak spoke about his aristocratic friends and his privileged education.

“I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are working class … Well, not working class,” he said.

“I mix and match and then I go to see kids from an inner-city state school and tell them to apply to Oxford and talk to them about people like me and then I shock them at the end of chatting with them for half an hour and tell them I was at Winchester and one of my best friends is from Eton and whatever and they are like: ‘Oh, OK.’”

“We all say silly things when we are students,” he would later tell Andrew Neil.


Joe Middleton and Lisa O'Carroll

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