Sir Keir Starmer attacks Boris Johnson over diminished confidence in Government's coronavirus response

  • Video report by ITV News Science Correspondent Tom Clarke

Sir Keir Starmer attacked Boris Johnson over the dwindling confidence in the Government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sir Keir said Mr Johnson’s use of statistics was damaging public trust in his Government.

He said: “The problem when the Prime Minister uses statistics is that the Statistics Authority has had concerns on more than one occasion.

“Yesterday, in a strongly worded letter to the Health Secretary, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority said that the statistics ‘still fall well short of expectations’.

“He went on to say ‘it is not surprising given that their inadequacy data on testing are so widely criticised and so often mistrusted’.

“Can the Prime Minister see how damaging this is to public trust and confidence in his Government?”

Mr Johnson replied: “I really do not see the purpose in his endless attacks on public trust and confidence.”

Sir Keir also noted that the director of the Reuters Institute said they had never seen such a drop in trust in 10 years, adding: “How worried is the Prime Minister about this loss of trust?”

Mr Johnson replied: “I really do not see the purpose in his endless attacks on public trust and confidence.”

The Labour leader wrote to Mr Johnson regarding the reopening of schools two weeks ago but claims he has not received a reply, although the prime minister says the two have spoken on the phone.

Sir Keir said he has supported the Government’s gradual easing of restrictions, adding: “That is why I wrote to the Prime Minister two weeks ago because I could see the problem with schools and I thought it needed leadership and consensus, and I privately offered to do what I could to build that consensus. That’s the offer that wasn’t taken up.”

Labour has since put the letter into the public domain.

Credit: Labour
Credit: Labour

Mr Johnson also rejected the Labour leader’s claim that the Government’s test, track and trace system is not yet fully operational.

Sir Keir said: “Two weeks ago today at the despatch box the Prime Minister promised that we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be ‘world-beating and yes it will be in place by June 1’.

“But it isn’t. And a critical element, the ability of local authorities to respond to local spikes is missing.”

Mr Johnson replied: “I’m afraid he’s casting aspersions on the efforts of tens of thousands of people who have set up a test, track and trace system in this country from a standing start.

“We now have 40,000 people engaged in this.”

Protests have taken place across America. Credit: PA

Mr Johnson did not reveal what conversations he has had with US President Donald Trump over the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests.

Both Sir Keir Starmer and SNP leader in Westminster Ian Blackford questioned Mr Johnson about the situation in America, where people have taken to the streets to protest against racism and police brutality.

The Prime Minister said: “Of course black lives matter and I totally understand the anger, the grief that is felt, not just in America but around the world and in our country as well.

“I totally understand that and I get that and I also support, as I’ve said, the right to protest.

“The only point I would make to the House is that protests should be carried out lawfully and in this country, protests should be carried out in accordance with our rules on social distancing.”

The Labour leader added that Tuesday’s scenes of MPs queuing to vote in person in the Commons and others not being unable to do so were “shameful” and pushed the Prime Minister to end the “completely unnecessary and unacceptable” process and instead allow remote voting to resume.

He told the Commons: “If any other employer behaved like this, it’d be a clear and obvious case of indirect discrimination under the Equalities Act.”

Mr Johnson replied: “I do think (Sir Keir) needs to consider what is really going on throughout the country where ordinary people are getting used to queuing for long periods of time to do their shopping or whatever it happens to be.

“I do not think it’s unreasonable that we should ask parliamentarians to come back to this place and do their job for the people of this country.

“I know it’s difficult and I apologise to colleagues for the inconvenience and I apologise to all those who have particular difficulties because they’re shielded or elderly, the change we’re making today will mean they should be able to vote by proxy.”

Mr Johnson was pressed to publish a full health and economic risk assessment linked to Covid-19.

“This Government commissioned the review from Public Health England and we take its findings very seriously because there obviously are inequalities in the way the virus impacts on different people, different communities in our country,” Mr Johnson told the commons.

He added that equalities minister Kemi Badenoch will be looking at “what next practical steps we need to do to protect all our country from coronavirus”.

The Prime Minister also said he hopes the global vaccine summit, which begins on Thursday, will be the “moment when the world comes together to unite humanity in the fight against disease”.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know