Sir Keir Starmer has said there is “no evidence” private schools will be forced to close due to Labour’s plans to impose VAT on them.

Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge, the Labour leader defended his party’s education policy to use the money to support state schools.

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“I think they will adapt,” he said. “They’ve had lots of increases in costs over the last 14 years and they’ve accommodated it.

“There’s no evidence to show these schools will close. They don’t have to pass the cost on to parents.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Thursday

Private schools are currently exempt from VAT – but the Labour Party has pledged to close the current loophole.

Sir Keir was grilled on the policy at the Sky News Leaders’ event in Grimsby.

It’s a difficult choice’

Addressing parents’ concerns, he added: “It’s a difficult choice. But they’re businesses in the end and they’re very successful in the round.

“I want them to thrive. But we need to make this choice, because in the end, if I want the teachers we need in our state secondary schools, I have to answer the question you would put to me, just how are you going to pay for that?

“You’re going to pay for that by getting rid of the tax breaks for private schools, and use it to invest in the teachers we need in our state secondaries.”

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Sir Keir was also pressed on the recent backlash to the policy, which Ms Ridge suggested may be related to “many people in Westminster and in the media who either went to private school or send their children there”.

“I think there’s an element of that,” he replied.

Grammar school background

The Labour leader spoke to Sky News following the final TV debate between he and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak before voters go to the polls on 4 July.

A snap Yougov poll suggested the public viewed their performance at the event in Nottingham on Wednesday equally.

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Ms Ridge also quizzed the Labour leader on his own education. He attended a grammar school in Surrey, which became private while he was there.

Asked how he felt about the change, he said: “I don’t think I even appreciated it.

“If you ask all the people that were at school with me – we started off as state grammar school boys, paid for by the local authority – we ended up as state grammar school boys paid for by the local authority.”

He stressed the funding and support from the council remained the same.

“It’s obviously very different now, but it is very important to me that every child has those opportunities,” he added.

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The Labour leader says his first steps should he be in Downing Street on 5 July are 40,000 extra NHS appointments to reduce waiting lists, recruiting secondary school teachers, and setting up ‘Great British Energy’ to minimise energy bill rises.

NHS fit ‘for the future’

Specifically on the NHS, he said he aims to “change the very model of the NHS” to “make much greater use of AI” and ensure it is more preventative and community-based.

“Creating the NHS is one [moment] we celebrate every year,” he said.

“I want to make sure that in the 50, 60, 70 years people are celebrating the fact that an incoming Labour government in 2024 made sure the NHS was not something to just proudly look back on, but is actually built fit for the future.”

Asked for his general feelings as the election campaign comes to an end, he said: “We’ve been here for four-and-a-half years.

“I woke up with a smile on my face on 1 January, because I knew we’d have an election this year.

“We’re ready for this. We’ve got a positive offer to put to the country. So we’re campaigning with a smile and a spring in our step.”

After his rival Mr Sunak told a previous TV debate he eats too much Haribo during election campaigns, Sir Keir said coffee was his vice to get him through

“Coffee coupled with cheese sandwiches and tuna sandwiches in the back of that Labour bus,” he said.