The Speaker
Wednesday, 29 May 2024 – 21:15

PMQs: Rayner takes the reins as Starmer tests positive for Covid

After Labour party leader Keir Starmer tested positive for covid-19, Deputy Leader Angela Rayner stepped up to hold the Prime Minister to account in the first PMQs of 2022.

The topic that dominated the session was looming energy bill increases, with prices expected to rise by as much as £1200 and average bills expected to increase by £700. Labour, the SNP, the Lib Dems and Conservative back benchers all took turns broaching the topic, and demanding to know what the Prime Minister was intending to do about it.

Rayner said:

“The prime minister has made political choices that have led us to this place. His government has failed to invest in long term energy security. His government decided to let gas storage collapse. His government allowed the energy market to run out of control.”

“Can’t the prime minister see what’s happening yet again? Working families are picking up the tab for his incompetence.”

“Under this prime minister the country is worse off. Prices for everyday goods are soaring out of control. Hard earned savings will be hit, and the wages of working people won’t go as far.”

Ian Blackford of the SNP said:

“Serious warnings have grown over the Tory cost-of-living crisis. … Families will be £1200 worse off … as a result of Tory cuts, tax hikes and soaring energy bills. For members of the Tory government £1200 might not seem very much. For the Foreign Secretary, it’s just another taxpayer funded luncheon mayfair. For the Prime Minister it’s just a roll of fancy wallpaper for his taxpayer funded flat. But for the vast majority of families, losing £1200 will be catastrophic.”

The Prime Minister responded:

“What the government is doing is supporting people throughout the pandemic. 2.2 million supported with the warm homes discount. Pensioners supported with winter payments. Cold weather payments for 4 million people up and down the country. That is on top of all we are doing to support people on low incomes. Cutting taxes for people on universal credit, increasing the living wage.”

Labour also asked the Prime Minister to back its call to cut VAT on energy bills. But the Prime Minister gave no definitive response.

Prime Minister Johnson also quipped to Rayner that “we all know what job she wants” – alluding to claims that she harbours ambitions to lead the Labour Party.

Rayner responded by quipping:

“I’ve heard on the grapevine there might be a vacancy for Prime Minister soon, so maybe I should show aspiration.”

After realising the potential anger that her statement could bring from Keir Starmer’s team, Rayner walked back the remark by urging Johnson to be more “aspirational for this country”. 

Other topics included:

Conservative MP John Penrose accused gas prices in the UK of “dancing to a tune set in Moscow”, and called on the prime minister to commit himself to moving towards energy independence in order to “uncouple us from Russian gas”. Mr Johnson responded with examples of Conservative investment into nuclear and renewable power.

Labour MP Charlotte Nichols brought up recent research into the safe use of psilopsybin to be used to treat depression. The Prime Minister recommended that she should try and get a meeting with the relevant cabinet minister.

Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh accused the government of negotiating a loosening of visa controls with India as part of a free trade agreement, calling it a betrayal of the brexit vote. Johnson responded that net immigration is down and that immigration would be brought down further by the border’s bill currently in the House of Lords.

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