Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer clash at PMQs on day where new government department is launched

Published by Scott Challinor on September 2nd 2020, 1:01pm

In his first appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions since July, Boris Johnson has defended his government’s decision-making after being pressed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over a series of U-turns in policy.

Sir Keir accused the prime minister of “making it up as he goes along”, adding that the U-turns in Covid-19 policy had led to a “wasted summer”.

Johnson justified his government’s actions by saying that policy was changed in line with new facts coming to light, and moved exams regulator Ofqual into the firing line by accusing them of misleading the government that the A-Level results day would run smoothly despite problems with the moderation algorithm.

The PM said: "As a result of what we learned about the tests, the results that had come in, we did institute a change, we did act."

One of the latest government U-turns involved a decision to scrap a proposed lifting of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions in the Bolton and Trafford regions of Greater Manchester.

Restrictions in the area were due to be eased after cases fell earlier in August, but they will now “remain under existing restrictions” following a significant change in the level of infection rates” in recent days which saw rates treble in Bolton and double in the Trafford area.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham had said that the easing of restrictions would have been “illogical”, while Sir Keir's spokesman attacked the U-turn at a briefing in Westminster, calling it “utterly chaotic” and saying that it undermines confidence in the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said that the decision was taken following “collaboration with local leaders after reviewing the latest data”.

He said: “We continually monitor outbreaks across the country and have seen infection rates increase more than three times in Bolton in under a week, and double in Trafford since the last review.

“We have always been clear we will take swift and decisive action where needed to contain outbreaks. We can bring the rates down if we continue to work together and I urge everyone to continue to play their part by following the rules – get tested if you have symptoms, self-isolate and practice social distancing.”

The prime minister is also under pressure from his own Conservative MPs, who are believed to be disgruntled with leaked proposals to raise taxes in a fundraising Budget in November, the Telegraph reports.

Its sources have said that corporation tax, national insurance contributions and fuel duty could all be raised.

The news outlet has also reported that chancellor Rishi Sunak was pictured carrying notes which appeared to reassure that any future Budget announcement would “not mean a horror show of tax”.

Sunak was due to meet backbench Conservative MPs on Wednesday afternoon to offer reassurances over rumours around tax hikes.

On Wednesday, the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office commenced its work, following the merger between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.

The government said that the new department, which pledges to protect “the world’s poorest” from Covid-19 and famine, will allow the UK to be “a force for good”.

In a statement, the government said that it had “committed to spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on aid”, dismissing reports that aid spending could be diverted to help supplement the public purse after finances were hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab announced that £119 million would be spent on a crackdown on Covid-19 and famine, saying: “Coronavirus and famine threaten millions in some of the world's poorest countries, and give rise to direct problems that affect the UK, including terrorism and migration flows.

"Global Britain, as a force for good in the world, is leading by example and bringing the international community together to tackle these deadly threats, because it's the right thing to do and it protects British interests.

"We can only tackle these global challenges by combining our diplomatic strength with our world-leading aid expertise."


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