Boris Johnson has said he is “very proud” of the government’s record on the coronavirus, during a prime minister’s questions at which Keir Starmer repeatedly pressed him on his leadership over the issue.
Johnson, who announced a new commitment for the vast majority of Covid-19 tests to be processed within 24 hours, complained several times about what he called a negative approach from the Labour leader. In response, Starmer said the prime minister was “confusing scrutiny for attack”.
Starmer – who began by expressing surprise that Johnson had not noted the death of George Floyd and the subsequent unrest in the US during his opening remarks – started his questions by referring to a Daily Telegraph article which said Johnson was revamping cabinet committees to “take control” of the response to the coronavirus.
Starmer asked: “So an obvious question for the prime minister: who’s been in direct control up till now?”
Johnson replied: “I take full responsibility for everything this government has been doing in tackling coronavirus, and I’m very proud of our record. If you look at what we have achieved so far, it is very considerable. We have protected the NHS, we have driven down the death rate. We are now seeing far fewer hospital admissions.”
He added: “I think what the country would like to hear from him is more signs of cooperation in that endeavour.”
Starmer responded to the latter comment by saying he had written to Johnson two weeks ago to ask whether he could “help build the consensus” on pupils returning to school, saying: “I did it confidentially because I didn’t want to make a lot of it. He hasn’t replied.”
The Labour leader asked Johnson about a report that levels of trust in the government had dropped notably since revelations about the lockdown movements of Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief adviser, and about the new test and trace system.
A sometimes irritated-sounding Johnson said he was “surprised” at Starmer’s approach. He accused the Labour leader of being obstructive, and diminishing the efforts of people involved in track and trace. “His attempts to distract the public from that have not been successful,” Johnson said.
He added: “I really do not see the purpose of his endless attacks on public trust and confidence.”
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Starmer replied: “The prime minister is confusing scrutiny for attack. I have supported the government, openly, and I’ve taken criticism for it. But boy, he makes it difficult to support this government over the last two weeks.”
Starmer ended by asking why lockdown restrictions were eased on Monday when the government’s coronavirus warning level remained on four, something Johnson had previously said would not happen.
Johnson replied: “He knows perfectly well that the alert level does allow it.”
The former health secretary Jeremy Hunt later asked the PM if he could make a commitment to all Covid-19 tests being completed within a day.
Johnson said: “I can undertake to him now to get all tests turned around within 24 hours by the end of June, except for difficulties with postal tests or insuperable problems like that.”