KEIR Starmer has been asked what “other cruel Tory policies” he would keep in place if elected prime minister after he outlined Labour’s opposition to ditching the two-child cap on benefits and the rape clause.

Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s Westminster leader, has written to both Starmer and Scottish Labour group leader Anas Sarwar in the wake of the policy announcement, confirmed on the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg show on Sunday.

On Monday, Sarwar confusingly both defended the move – saying that scrapping the cap could “spook the markets” – and insisted he would “continue” to call for a U-turn on the “heinous” policy.

Other Labour MSPs, including Paul Sweeney, Pauline McNeill, Monica Lennon, and former group leader Richard Leonard, were vocal in their condemnation of Starmer’s decision to keep the two-child limit.

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Reports said the party's Westminster frontbench went into "meltdown" over Starmer's comments, with high-profile resignations threatened behind the scenes. 

Monday also saw the publication of an academic report into the impact of the cap, funded by the Nuffield Foundation and run by the University of York, the University of Oxford, and the London School of Economics.

The report’s authors concluded that the “evidence provides an overwhelming and, we would argue, unassailable case” for the abolition of the cap.

The two-child benefit limit was launched by Tory chancellor George Osbourne in 2015 and brought in two years later.

It limits the number of children for which a person can claim benefits to two, unless – through the controversial “rape clause” – they can prove that subsequent children were conceived via sexual assault. Other exemptions for multiple births or adoption also exist.

The National: SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)

Official figures published last week showed 1.5 million children are in families impacted by the cap. In the wake of the data, anti-poverty charities wrote to political leaders including Starmer, Flynn, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying: “Scrapping the two-child limit … would lift 250,000 children out of poverty and mean 850,000 children are in less deep poverty.”

And now, in his own letter to Starmer and Sarwar, Flynn (above) said the pair must take “personal responsibility for the families pushed into poverty” by the two-child limit, if a Labour government does not remove it.

The SNP group leader wrote: “People across Scotland are increasingly asking the question – 'what is the point of the Labour Party?' if it can't even be trusted to scrap the most damaging Tory policies and is willing to push people further into poverty by imposing benefit cuts, Brexit, and real-terms cuts to public services.”

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He went on: “What other cruel Tory policies would the Labour Party keep?

“Will you scrap the wider Tory benefit cap? Will you abolish the Bedroom Tax? Will you reverse the £20 a week cut to Universal Credit? Will you end the Tory local housing allowance freeze?

“Will you give a commitment that a Labour Party UK government would match the ambition of the SNP government's Scottish Child Payment, and increase the child element of Universal Credit by £25 a week – or will you fail to play your part in tackling poverty?

“During the 2014 independence referendum campaign, senior Labour Party figures promised voters that Scotland would get maximum devolution, and pledged ‘we’re going to be, within a year or two, as close to a federal state as you can be’. Nine years have now passed since that promise was made and subsequently broken – will you finally deliver it, including by committing to devolving all powers over welfare and employment?”

Labour did not respond to The National’s request to a response to Flynn’s letter.

Pollster Mark Diffley, from the Diffley Partnership research firm, said that “like it or not, polling may explain his/Labour’s attitudes”.

He pointed to a YouGov poll of 4151 British adults, published on July 11, which found 60% of the public support the two-child cap. Just 22% said it should be scrapped.

Andrew Harrop, the general secretary of the Fabian Society think tank, called the cap a “vicious policy that seeds child deprivation” but also noted its support among the wider public.

“Our research showed the public back the current policy – both when asked in polls and after deliberation in a citizens jury,” Harrop wrote, adding: “But that’s no reason for inaction.”