'Desperate' Boris Johnson flings insults at PMQs because he can't answer questions, says Keir Starmer

PM’s IRA jibe at dispatch box ‘hit a sore point’, says Labour leader

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 14 September 2020 17:31 BST
Keir Starmer accuses 'desperate' Boris Johnson of using PMQs to fling insults

A “desperate” Boris Johnson is resorting to flinging insults at Prime Minister’s Questions because of his inability to provide answers to questions about his policies, Sir Keir Starmer has claimed.

The Labour leader said that after their first encounters in the House of Commons went “hopelessly wrong” for Mr Johnson earlier this year, the prime minister switched from attempting to answer questions to making groundless allegations against Sir Keir.

Sir Keir responded furiously last month when Mr Johnson accused him at the dispatch box of condoning sympathy for the IRA, a jibe that earned Mr Johnson a rebuke from the Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

Today the Labour leader rejected Mr Johnson’s criticism that he failed to speak out over terrorism or the Russian poison attack in Salisbury under  Jeremy Corbyn in order to avoid an internal party clash.

Sir Keir said: “It hit a sore point because it was so obviously wrong. I have prosecuted terrorists as director of public prosecutions. For five years before I was director of public prosecutions, I worked in Northern Ireland with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

“I have never stayed silent about calling out terrorism and calling out the IRA. I’ve spent years of my life working with police officers prosecuting very serious terrorist cases. I've worked with the Police Service of Northern Ireland for five years. And I was working there for with communities that suffered great loss because of the terrorist acts that took place in Northern Ireland. I know people who've got family members who have been affected by this.”

Asked why he thought Mr Johnson had called him a supporter of “an IRA-condoning politician” at PMQs, Sir Keir said: “It was the usual general insult from the prime minister without thinking through what he was saying.

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“On any issue of terrorism that has arisen whilst Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the Labour Party, I've spoken out. I spoke out, in a slightly different context, on Salisbury when we had the poisonings there. I was very clear about that, whatever anybody else said, I knew very clearly in my own mind what I needed to say and what was the right thing to say about Salisbury.

“The prime minister accused me a few weeks before of saying nothing about Salisbury. It was just completely wrong and he had to be shown the clip of me actually saying it, but even then he probably hasn't come back and apologised.

“My assessment is that he started PMQs back in the early days, when it was me and him, trying to answer questions. That went hopelessly wrong, and he then decided to stop answering questions and now he's so desperate he's just reaching for insults.”

Sir Keir accused Mr Johnson of taking a similar approach to challenges over his performance on the coronavirus, responding to criticisms by issuing ever more extravagant promises – such as his Operation Moonshot plan to test millions of people a day – rather than addressing the issue at hand.

The Labour leader told LBC Radio that he backed the government’s “rule of six” ban on gatherings of more than six people in England, which comes into force today.

But he added: “What I would say to the government is, if you're asking that of the British people, your side of the bargain is to get the testing and tracing and isolating right in order to keep this under control.

“What he always does is, instead of attending to the problem in hand, he makes another promise about the future. So instead of saying, ‘I’m going to fix the system as it now is,' he says, ‘We're going to have 10 million tests by the end of the year.' I just want the problem we've got fixed.”

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