Boris Johnson accused Sir Keir Starmer of wanting to “cancel” Christmas, amid warnings the Prime Minister is “ignoring” medical advice by easing Covid-19 restrictions.
The Prime Minister hit out after the Labour leader warned that the “next big mistake” to be made by Mr Johnson is likely to be over the relaxation of restrictions for five days over the festive period.
Speaking in the Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), Sir Keir asked: “If he really is going to press ahead with this, could he tell us what’s the assessment – and has it been done – of the impact it will have on infection rates that increase pressure on the NHS?”
Mr Johnson replied: “I wish he’d had the guts to just say what he really wants to do, which is to cancel the plans people have made and cancel Christmas – I think that’s what he’s driving at, he’s looking a bit blank, I think that’s what he’s driving at.
“I can tell him as of today, that just this morning, there is unanimous agreement across all the UK Government, across all the devolved administrations – including members of all parties, including his own – that we should proceed in principle with the existing regulations because we don’t want to criminalise people’s long-made plans.
“We do think it’s absolutely vital that people should, at this very, very tricky time, exercise a high degree of personal responsibility – especially when they come into contact with elderly people, and avoid contact with elderly people wherever possible.
“That is how by being sensible and cautious – not by imposing endless lockdowns or cancelling Christmas as he would appear to want to do, that’s the only implication I can draw from what he’s said unless he wants to announce some other idea – that is the way we’ll continue to work together to keep this virus under control, to defeat it and take the country forward.”
But Sir Keir countered: “Here we go again, ignoring the medical advice – and we know where that leads because we’ve seen what happened in the last nine months.
“Whatever the Prime Minister says, there’s no escaping the brutal facts that Britain has the highest number of Covid deaths in Europe and the worst economic damage.”
The Labour leader also used the pair’s exchanges at PMQs to reflect on the last 12 months.
He opened by asking Mr Johnson to admit that his “slowness” to react to the pandemic “led to more deaths, a longer lockdown and a deeper economic damage”.
Mr Johnson replied: “No, because at every stage we followed the scientific guidance and continue to do so.”
He also told MPs there are “spikes now taking place across the whole of the EU”. He added that thanks to the tiering system implemented in the UK – “we’re seeing those rates coming down”.
Mr Johnson continued: “Yes, it is true that we have spikes now in some parts of London and the south-east, but we will make sure that with our adjustments to the tiering that we conduct over the next few weeks that we will address those issues.”
Sir Keir also chose to focus on the Prime Minister’s former senior adviser Dominic Cummings.
He said: “Another major mistake of the last 12 months – losing public trust. We all know what the tipping point was. The 520-mile round trip to Barnard Castle and the humiliating way in which the PM and his cabinet chose to defend it.
“Now we learn that while the PM and Chancellor are telling the Armed Forces, police officers, care workers and firefighters that they will get a pay freeze, Dominic Cummings has been handed at least a £40,000 pay rise. How on earth does the PM justify that?”
Mr Johnson replied: “He totally trivialises the efforts of the British people in getting the virus down.
“We will continue with that tiering system and we will get that virus down. That is the best way forward for this country. All he wants to do is to lock the whole country down, he’s a one-club golfer, that’s the only solution he has and then all he does is attack the economic consequences of lockdowns.”
Sir Keir later joked Mr Cummings’s pay rise was not performance-related.