PMQs Highlights and Review – 09.09.2020

Leader of the Opposition Questions

Q1. Keir Starmer used his first question to outline the problems over COVID-19 testing. He told the story of a mother who had tried endlessly to find a COVID-19 test for her daughter and had been offered testing center’s hundreds of miles way. It was a heartfelt question that got to the heart of many people’s frustrations over this issue. He asked who the Prime Minister thought was responsible for this?

COVID-19 Test Sites have often been offered that are hundreds of miles away.

The Prime Minister said he takes responsibility, as he does for all aspects of the COVID-19 response. He said that those who attack the NHS Test and Trace service (implying that this is what Starmer was doing) and the staff within do not recognise that it is because of the success of Test and Trace, and its expansion to a capacity of 320,000 tests a day, that we now know so much more about the COVID-19 disease. He also said that some people were not following the guidance correctly and, for this reason, he had bought in the new measures that will become active on the 14th September 2020. Johnson’s aggressive counter-attacking response was less than effective and left Starmer in a position to raise the tone at the start of his next question.

Q2. Starmer started his question may saying he would support the government measures, just as he always has. He said no-one was attacking the NHS, but people were anxious. He quoted the Health Secretary who has previously said on the 21st June 2020 that anyone who needed a test could get one. He then quoted the Head of Track and Trace who had said that the delay was down to a slowing of Lab work but compared this to the Health Secretary who this morning appeared to blame the public for taking tests when they did not need one. He asked the PM who was right?

Johnson said he shared the frustration of people who could not get tests but that this was due to the unprecedented demand. He followed this by saying that Britain had done more tests than any other country in Europe with 17.6 million, thanks to the efforts of NHS Test and Trace. He said the organisation was working heroically and that public should trust them. He criticised the Leader of the Opposition for suggesting Test and Trace was near collapse. He asked the Leader of the Opposition to take this remarks back. Again, this tactic of deflection did not work and left Starmer in a strong position at the start of his next question.

Q3. Starmer said that people couldn’t get tests who needed them. Although he acknowledged the number of tests overall, people needed testing to go to work and send their children to school. He said the PM needed answers. Starmer said the issue went beyond the distance people were being expected to go for tests. He recounted the story of one women who had a temperature and was told her family needed to isolate. There were no local test sites available and no home kits available. He again asked the PM what was happening?

Johnson focused the start of the answer on the fact that Starmer did not take his comments back. He then outlined what the ideal vision is, with people taking tests everyday and taking anti-gen test to find out if they have had the virus. However, he reaffirmed that in the meantime Test and Trace were doing a heroic job and most people got their results within 24 hours and had a journey of less than 10 miles, if a journey was required.

Q4. Starmer said he wanted the system to succeed and he had offered his support. He said everyone in the House knows the system has got worse because their constituents had contacted them about it. He said the latest government figures show 75,000 tests are not used everyday and yet people were still being told there was no capacity. Why is this?

Johnson said there had been a growth in the people who needed tests, including people with no symptoms. He said that the government was right to prioritise tests for front-line workers. Johnson said 80% of contacts supplied were reached through Track and Trace and 320,000 have been persuaded to self-isolate. He said that was the British people ignoring Starmer’s attempt to undermine track and trace.

Q5. Starmer calmly said that what was undermining the system was families not being able to get tests. He said he did not want an argument, he wanted to see it fixed and that they should all ‘muck in’ to do it. He asked whether the PM believed to many people were coming forward for tests or not? He said that the government side of the bargain to people having to self-isolate was the government supplying a track and trace scheme. He asked the PM when he first new that people were being asked to travel hundreds of miles in order to take a test?

Starmer, perhaps with the help of his experience as a prosecutor, deliberately stays calm when the Prime Minister goes on the attack. It sometimes leaves the PM looking out of control.

Johnson said that this was a function of the growing demand and the growing public confidence in tests and trace that capacity was being reached. He reiterated his previous figures about how much testing capacity had gone up by and about the track and trace program. He said the job was hard-work and a big job and they would like to see the support of the Leader of Opposition.

Q6. Starmer started his answer by asking why the Prime Minister could not be honest. He said that if the Prime Minister owned the issue and looked for a solution, people would be reassured. Instead, he said the Prime Minister pretends the problem is not there. He said that the government could not even get the basics right, let alone the ‘world-beating’ system they promised. He said the government was lurching from crisis to crisis. He asked when the problem with test and trace would be fixed.

Johnson said the government were working flat out to tackle COVID-19 and making tough decisions to take the country forward. He said that Starmer was silent on school returns in order to protect his union friends . He said that when it comes to sticking up for the UK internal market and delivering Brexit, Starmer was silent. Johnson said that the government took the tough decisions of government whilst all the Leader of the Opposition did was sit on the side and ‘carp’.

Winner:

Keir Starmer was the winner today. Again, when Johnson looked somewhat out of control, Starmer responded by looking deliberately calm. However, he was caught out on the last question, saying the government lacked ‘incompetence’, rather than ‘competence’ as he intended. The last question is the final chance to lay a glove on the Prime Minister and this fluffed line took the impetus out of his question. This will go down as another week where Starmer should have done better, despite winning clearly.

SNP Leader Questions:

Q1. Ian Blackford asked about the government’s internal market draft bill which is yet to be released, but that he had seen. He said that it was nothing short of an attack on the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people. He said it broke both international law. He asked why the Prime Minister thought he and his friends were above the law?

The Prime Minister said that this bill would protect job and growth and ensure prosperity through the UK.

Q2. Blackford reminded Parliament of the Prime Minister’s breach of the law over the prorogation and the Dominic Cummings Affair. He said that the bill would remove state aid rights from Scotland and hand them back to Westminster. He quoted a number of bodies who criticised the planned bill. He said the Scottish Parliament would reject this attack and he asked whether the Prime Minister would press on with this bill.

SNP Leader Ian Blackford was back in the chamber rather than on the screens and this did help his delivery.

The Prime Minister confirmed the government would press ahead with the bill. He said that Blackford’s attacks were illogical and the bill actually grants more powers to the devolved areas. During his response Blackford referred to the Prime Minister as a ‘charlatan’ and a ‘liar’. When he was asked to withdraw the remark and said that it was written into the bill that devolution would be trampled on and that it was ‘not a lie’. Although he did not withdraw the remark, the Speaker accepted the withdrawal…!

Winner:

Blackford was better today, but again his first question was found lacking. It was a question that would likely elicit an obvious answer and had little political impact. He would have been better off focusing both his questions on the detail in the Internal Market Bill and trying to pin the Prime Minister to a statement that he might live to regret later. Again, the Prime Minister handled Blackford relatively easily.

Best Backbench Question:

Images of the treatment of the Uygur people has been extremely disturbing.

Siobhain McDonagh, the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, asked a question about the shocking treatment of the Uyghur people by the Chinese Government. She started by drawing a clear paradigm with notable historical genocides:

” They herd them on to trains, they shave their heads, they abort their babies. A genocide of the Uyghur people by the Chinese Government is taking place before our eyes”

She then said that being critical of the Chinese (who she called the next world superpower) was easy, taking action was hard. She asked what the Prime Minister would do to prevent the ethnic cleansing that was taking place?

The Prime Minister responded by saying that both he and the Foreign Secretary had raised these concerns with the Chinese authorities, but made no commitments and showed little depth of understanding of the problem. He looked weak on this issue of fundamental foreign policy.

Most Cringeworthy Backbench Question:

There really wasn’t one this week. The planted questions this week were obviously extremely well disguised!

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