A “desperate” Boris Johnson is resorting to flinging about insults at prime minister’s questions because of his inability to provide answers to questions about his policies, Sir Keir Starmer has claimed.
The Labour leader said that after their first encounters in the House of Commons went “hopelessly wrong” for Johnson earlier this year, the PM had switched from attempting to answer questions to making groundless allegations against Starmer.
Starmer responded furiously last month when the PM accused him at the despatch box of condoning sympathy for the IRA, a jibe which earned Johnson a rebuke from the Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
Today the Labour leader rejected Mr Johnson’s criticism that he failed to speak out over terrorism or the Russian poison attack in Salisbury under Jeremy Corbyn in order to avoid an internal party clash.
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Sir Keir said: “It hit a sore point because it was so obviously wrong. I have prosecuted terrorists as director of public prosecutions. For five years before I was director of public prosecutions, I worked in Northern Ireland with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
“I have never stayed silent about calling out terrorism and calling out the IRA. I’ve spent years of my life working with police officers prosecuting very serious terrorist cases. I've worked with the Police Service of Northern Ireland for five years. And I was working there for with communities that suffered great loss because of the because of the terrorist acts that took place in Northern Ireland. I know people who've got family members who have been affected by this.”
Asked why he thought the PM had branded him a supporter of “an IRA-condoning politician” at PMQs, Starmer said: “It was the usual general insult from the prime minister without thinking through what he was saying.
“On any issue of terrorism that has arisen whilst Jeremy Corbyn was leader the Labour Party, I've spoken out. I spoke out, in a slightly different context, on Salisbury when we had the poisonings there. I was very clear about that, whatever anybody else said I knew very clearly in my own mind what I needed to say what I wanted to say and what was the right thing to say about Salisbury.
“The Prime Minister accused me a few weeks before of saying nothing about Salisbury. It was just completely wrong and he had to be shown the clip of me actually saying it but even then he probably hasn't come back and apologise.
“My assessment is that he started PMQs back in the early days when it was me and him, trying to answer questions. That went hopelessly wrong, and he then decided to stop answering questions and now he's so desperate he's just reaching for insults.”
Starmer accused Johnson of taking a similar approach to challenges over his performance on coronavirus, responding to criticisms by issuing ever more extravagant promises - such as his Operation Moonshot plan to test millions of people a day - rather than addressing the issue at hand.
The Labour leader told LBC he backed the government’s “rule of six” ban on gatherings of more than six people in England, which comes into force today.
But he added: “What I would say to the government is, if you're asking that of the British people, your side of the bargain is to get the testing and tracing and isolating right in order to keep this under control.
“What he always does is, instead of attending to the problem in hand, he makes another promise about the future. So instead of saying ‘I’m going to fix the system as it now is’, he says ‘We're going to have 10 million tests by the end of the year’. I just want the problem we've got fixed.”