In this week’s Prime Minister’s questions, most MPs opened their statements with acknowledgements of the suffering of the victims of Storm Arwen, as well as National Aids Day and National Disability Day, due on the 3rd. Here’s a look at some of the key points from PMQs this week…
Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer opened by accusing the Prime Minister of breaking lockdown rules by holding a Christmas party, supposedly involving dozens of people at No. 10 on the 18th of December 2020 – at a time when the government policy was “You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party”.
Boris Johnson denied any rules were broken but did not deny that such a party occurred. He quipped that he hopes Labour follow the guidelines for their planned Christmas party on the 5th, before insinuating that Labour deputy leader Angela Raynor is probably not invited, highlighting an apparent division in the Labour party leadership following the surprise shadow cabinet reshuffle on Monday, of which Raynor was thought to have been unaware.
Starmer went on to quote a policy from Mr Johnson’s manifesto, promising to build 40 new hospitals across the country, before quoting a report from the Cabinet Office and the Treasury that the project is “a red flag because it is unachievable”. Johnson responded by praising the government’s support for the NHS, referencing the record number of staff now employed by the NHS and the record funding of over 36 billion pounds currently allocated to it, in a bill that Labour opposed.
Johnson declared that the government was on track to build the 40 new hospitals, though Starmer retorted that if the Prime Minister is so confident in the program he should be willing to publicly release the progress report.
Starmer then quoted from a document he had received, that had been sent from the Department of Health to the NHS, called the “New Hospital Programme Communications Playbook”. This document advises everybody to describe ‘alterations and refurbishments on existing hospitals as new hospitals.’
Starmer asked, “how many of the 40 are fix-up jobs on existing hospitals, and how many are actually the new hospitals he promised?”
Johnson did not directly answer the question but insisted that the government was upholding the promise written in the manifesto.
Starmer’s final contribution of the PMQs was a scathing critique of the Prime Minister’s honesty:
“It’s the same old story from this Prime Minister, week in week out, defending the indefensible and broken promises. His mates were found to be corrupt, he tried to get them off the hook. Downing Street throws parties during lockdown, he says “not a problem”. He promised there would be no tax rises, then he put up tax. He promised there’d be a rail revolution in the North, then he cancelled the trains. He promised no one would have to sell their homes for care, then along came his working class dementia tax. He promised 40 new hospitals, and even if you count the paint jobs, his own watchdog says he can’t deliver it. Isn’t this the truth Mr. Speaker, that any promises from this Prime Minister aren’t worth the manifesto paper they’re written on?”
In response, Boris Johnson accused Labour of “playing politics” while the government “are delivering for the people of this nation”. He brought up increases to Universal Credit payments before accusing Labour of having no plan to deal with the pandemic. Speaking of Keir Starmer, Johnson said:
“If we’d listened to captain hindsight here, we’d all still be in lockdown.”
Conservative backbencher, Andrew Rosindell, claimed that the UK being beholden to the European Court of Human Rights was preventing the UK’s ability to deal with the current migrant crisis, to which Johnson responded that the government was considering its involvement with the European Court of Human rights, as well as possibly repealing Labour’s Bill of Human Rights in favour of a new “British Bill of Rights”.
Labour MP Imran Hussain spoke of the Priti Patel’s new Nationality and Borders bill, arguing that it gave provision for the government to, in response to even minor infractions, revoke the British citizenship of people whose families have lived in the UK for several generations. He asked the Prime Minister:
“Let me ask the prime minister the burning question that is on the lips of everyone from a BAME background right across the country. When is he coming for me?”
The Prime Minister denied that the bill gave any such provisions, stating that it was designed to help the government deal with criminals and that if Labour was serious about undermining such criminals they should support the bill.
Other topics that were brought up at PMQs involved the high cost of childcare in Britain, which is some of the highest in the developed world, a demand that the government stops cutting monetary support for farmers before the planned future policies to support them have been enacted, and the official addition of the Hillsborough disaster to the national school curriculum.