Starmer tells Sunak he can’t legislate his way out of ’13 years of failure’

Sir Keir Starmer has told Rishi Sunak he cannot legislate his way out of “13 years of failure” as he criticised the new anti-strike bill.

At the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the year, the Labour leader focused his line of attack on the NHS strikes and the current state of the National Health Service.

He told MPs: “When I clapped nurses, I meant it.” And he insisted the PM’s response to “the greatest crisis in the history of the NHS” is to threaten to “sack our nurses”.

It comes as the Government introduced the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill to Parliament, which would set minimum service levels for health, fire, education, transport, nuclear decommissioning and border security services.

Sir Keir said: “His Transport Secretary says it’s not the solution. His Education Secretary hopes it won’t apply in schools.

“His own assessments say it could increase the number of strikes. The simple truth is you can’t legislate your way out of 13 years of failure. Between 2010 and 2019, before anyone had heard of Covid.”

He went on: “The number of people stuck on the NHS waiting list doubled. Why do patients always wait longer under the Tories?”

Prime Minister’s Questions
Sir Keir Starmer at the first Prime Minister’s Questions of the year (House of Commons/PA)

Responding to Sir Keir, Mr Sunak said: “This is a simple proposition. No-one denies the unions’ freedom to strike but it is also important to balance that with people’s right to have access to life-saving healthcare.”

“This shouldn’t be controversial, the International Labour Organisation supports minimum service levels,” he said, noting they are present in a number of European countries.

He then mocked the Labour leader, adding: “Normally he’s in favour of more European alignment.”

Sir Keir also used the contrast between the record of the last Labour government with the record of the Conservatives.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions (House of Commons/PA)

He told the Commons: “Last month, 1.4 million people waited more than four weeks for a GP appointment.

“When Labour left government you were guaranteed an appointment in two days. When does the Prime Minister expect to get back to that?”

He also insisted it is “not just about routine care”, noting that for cancer patients, the last Labour government “brought in a guarantee you’d be seen by a specialist within two weeks”.

In his rebuttal, though, Mr Sunak accused Sir Keir of having “absolutely no understanding of the situation”, as cancer referrals went down because of the pandemic.

He said: “Why is there a challenge with cancer times right now?

“It’s just … absolutely no understanding of the situation. What happened to cancer referrals during Covid? They went down by almost two-thirds. That was because of a pandemic that they went down.”

Recycling a line used by his predecessor Boris Johnson on multiple occasions during PMQs, he added: “And, by the way, if we had stayed and listened to him, we’d still be in lockdown.”

On waiting lists, the Prime Minister said: “We have already eliminated two-year wait lists – done last year.

“We are on track this spring to eliminate those waiting 18 months, with a clear plan to go further to eliminate those waiting 52 weeks by next spring.”