Boris Johnson began Prime Minister’s Questions today by highlighting the momentous nature of the speech delivered to parliament by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday. “Never before” had such a speech been given, he said, adding that the UK will be doing even more in the coming days to protect the people of Ukraine. Surprisingly, given the shambolic government response to the growing refugee crisis, Keir Starmer decided to focus his questioning on the domestic situation, leaving it to the SNP to go on the offensive about Tory failings on Ukraine.
Starmer instead drew attention back to the cost of living crisis at home, noting that the typical household energy bill is expected to rise by £700 in the next month, without factoring in the impact of the war in Ukraine. He argued that the government’s ‘buy-now-pay-later’ response to the crisis has relied on the assumption that energy costs will eventually fall: “That bet now looks certain to fail. When will the Prime Minister force the Chancellor into a U-turn?”
Johnson tried to turn criticism onto the opposition leader, declaring that he was “absolutely out of his mind” to urge a U-turn, because this equates to calling on ministers to stop supporting people through the current crisis. He emphasised that his government would “continue to do more” and that a U-turn is the “last thing we want”.
“Let’s see how long that position lasts,” Starmer quipped, alluding to the Prime Minister’s historical indecision at critical moments. He repeated his party’s call for a windfall tax on energy companies, stressing that the current approach is “protecting energy profits, not working people”. With ‘partygate’ disappearing from the headlines, this attack line gives Labour a new opportunity to drive a wedge between the British people and their government, returning the focus to how Johnson fails to perform his duties to the electorate.
Although Johnson’s responses were tired, rehashes of ones given at previous PMQs sessions, Starmer at times appeared to struggle to land his criticisms. The Prime Minister was more confident at the despatch box than he has been in recent weeks. His feigned surprise at Starmer’s support for an expansion of the UK’s nuclear capacity was met with derision. “Come off it,” the Labour leader scoffed, “Labour is pro-nuclear.” Members of the opposition frontbench nodded. Johnson’s overused but effective nickname “Captain Hindsight” resurfaced, as did the debatable claim that the UK has the fastest growing economy in the G7. Starmer said what many of us watching were feeling: “12 years in power and that’s the best he can do.”