Rishi Sunak 'disappointed' smoking ban has been shelved - but defends decision to take 'bold action'

Rishi Sunak has said he is "disappointed" his flagship plan to phase out smoking has been shelved because of the imminent general election

The prime minister said the proposal, which would have prohibited anyone who was born on or after 1 January 2009 from buying tobacco, was an example of the "bold action" he was willing to take as leader.

The ban, which was announced last year, would effectively raise the legal age for buying cigarettes in England by one year every year, until it applies to the whole population.

The policy to create a "smoke-free generation" was seen as a defining one of Mr Sunak's premiership and caused controversy within Tory ranks, particularly the more libertarian wing of the party.

The Tobacco and Vapes bill, which contains the measures to phase out smoking and would have also placed restrictions on vapes, is one of a number of bills that will not be rubber stamped before parliament is prorogued later today and formally dissolves on 30 May.

General election latest: Keir Starmer responds to 'spineless' attack from Tories

Other bills that have been shelved include the Renters Reform Bill, the Criminal Justice Bill and the Football Governance Bill with the legislation unable to make it through the Commons in the remaining days of the wash-up period - the term used to describe the final days before parliament dissolves.

Put to him that "so much of what you wanted to achieve is going up in smoke", the prime minister said: "Well, there's always a normal process at the end of a parliament to see which legislation you can pass in the time that's available.

"And the smoking ban - of course, disappointed to not be able to get that through at the end of the session given the time available," he told reporters in Belfast.

"But what I'd say is that's evidence of the bold action that I'm prepared to take - that's the type of prime minister I am.

'I stepped up to do something bold'

"That's the type of leadership that I bring. I stepped up to do something that is bold, that will make an enormous difference to the future of our country."

Mr Sunak cited bills that had passed through parliament, including the Post Office Offences Bill that is set to quash the convictions of sub-postmasters who were victims of the Horizon IT scandal.

It is also likely that the Victims and Prisoners Bill, which contains measures to compensate victims of the infected blood scandal, will also get through.

👉 Listen above then tap here to follow Electoral Dysfunction wherever you get your podcasts 👈

Mr Sunak also challenged his Labour opponent, Sir Keir Starmer, to take part in TV debates throughout the general election campaign.

Read more:
Starmer brands Sunak 'desperate' and says 'of course there will be TV debates
Rishi the 'underdog' must get out of his comfort zone to get his message across

Sir Keir, who is in Glasgow this morning for the launch of his party's campaign in Scotland, has been accused of "chickening out" of weekly showdowns during the election campaign - a charge he has denied.

"I think what the British people want are answers," Mr Sunak said.

"I'm very happy to debate Keir Starmer so I can set out what I want to do for this country, taking bold action, working towards a clear plan and delivering a secure future for everyone.

"I want to debate him and I hope that he takes up the offer."

The prime minister was also asked whether he would welcome his predecessor, Boris Johnson, joining the Conservatives on the campaign trail - to which he said: "I'd welcome for any Conservative to come and join the campaign.

"And I've been in touch with Boris in the past. I'm very proud of the work that we did together."