From the announcement on Tuesday on the Covid border policy to the latest example of Tory cronyism with the appointment to the universities regulator, Keir Starmer had plenty to go on at Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon. He chose to focus in particular on the £50bn “bombshell” facing businesses. And, sidestepping accusations of flip-flopping aimed at the Labour leader himself during the session, he instead managed to highlight the damage rendered by Boris Johnson’s continued indecision throughout the pandemic.
With support packages ending and business costs due to rise from April, Starmer reminded the Commons that Johnson once said “f**k business” when someone suggested the government should listen to people in industry. Starmer demanded that the PM extend the furlough scheme and business rates relief beyond April. Told to wait until the Budget next month, the Labour leader argued: “Businesses can’t work as slowly as the Prime Minister. They need an answer now.”
Starmer also took a stab at the newly unveiled border measures, again calling for a “comprehensive hotel quarantine system”. He highlighted that the new border measures only come into force a full 50 days after the discovery of the South African Covid variant. The Prime Minister protested that the UK has the toughest regime in the world – something, as Starmer pointed out, not supported by the Oxford University border policy tracker.
And the Labour leader this afternoon warned of another crucial deadline approaching, asking the PM to extend the eviction ban currently due to end on February 21st. But households facing evictions across the country within the next two weeks received no comfort from the Tory leader today. He obfuscated as usual, claiming that his government is “wrapping its arms” around people in the pandemic. “I’ll let the Prime Minister in on a secret,” Starmer told MPs this afternoon. “He can take decisions himself.”
The common thread throughout? Damaging delay, from housing to borders and business. The PM argued that the Labour leader was simply “sniping from the sidelines”. A favourite attack line of his. Prepared, Starmer rounded off the session today with two very clear “constructive proposals” for the government. “Support businesses and protect jobs now,” he told Johnson – asking for the extension of furlough, business rate relief and VAT cuts for hospitality – and “secure our borders now” with a comprehensive hotel quarantine system. Note the emphasis on now. The message from Starmer is clear: people cannot afford further delay, waiting for the PM to get his act together.