Sir Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of presiding over a government of bullying, cronyism and misuse of public money during the Covid crisis – while failing to give frontline workers a pay rise.
The Labour leader challenged the prime minister over a series of recent scandals during Wednesday’s feisty PMQs clash in the House of Commons.
“I think it’s a clean sweep – bullying, harassment, leaking, wasting public money and obvious conflicts of interest,” Sir Keir said. “It’s the same old story, one rule for the British public, another for the prime minister and his friends.”
The Labour leader said the government had “sprayed public money on contracts that don’t deliver” but had a very different attitude to money when it came to key workers. “If you’ve got a hotline to ministers, you get a blank cheque, but if you’re on the frontline tackling Covid, you’re picking up the bill.”
“So will the prime minister finally get his priorities right, stop wasting taxpayers’ money and give police officers, firefighters, care workers and other key workers the pay rise they so obviously deserve?”
Mr Johnson said the government had given public sector workers above inflation pay rises this year. “And it’s this government that will continue to increasing the living wage,” he added.
Sir Keir urged the PM to “come clean” on how much money had been wasted on unusable PPE equipment, following a Cabinet Office response suggesting that the government purchased not 180 million items of unusable PPE.
Mr Johnson responded: “Actually, 99.5% of the PPE, the 32 billion items of PPE that this country has secured, conformed entirely to our clinical needs once we checked it.”
Sir Keir also questioned the PM’s decision to allow home secretary Priti Patel to stay in her post following a report which found she had shouted and sworn at staff.
He said: “What message does the prime minister think it sends that the independent advisor on standards has resigned but the home secretary is still in post?”
However, Mr Johnson said he was not sorry to have kept Ms Patel in her in post. “The home secretary has apologised for any way in which her conduct fell short, and frankly Mr Speaker I make no apology for sticking up and standing by a home secretary who is … getting on with delivering the people’s priorities.”
On cronyism claims, Sir Keir pointed to reports that health secretary Matt Hancock had appointed one of his closest friends to a key advisory role.
“This friend also is a major shareholder, as it happens, in a firm that specialises in lobbying the government,” said the Labour leader – challenging the PM whether he agreed there was an apparent “conflict of interest”.
Mr Johnson replied: “In so far as there any conflict of interest, they will evident from the publication in all the details of all the contracts.”