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PM not trusted to clean up ‘sleaze’ mess in Government, says Starmer

Richard Wheeler, Lewis McKenzie, Caitlin Doherty and Elizabeth Arnold, PA
·4-min read

Boris Johnson is not trusted to clean up the “sleaze” mess at the heart of his Government, according to Sir Keir Starmer.

The Labour leader used Prime Minister’s Questions to repeatedly raise allegations levelled against the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues.

Sir Keir focused on reports that Mr Johnson promised entrepreneur Sir James Dyson, via text messages, he would “fix” an issue over the tax status of his employees after he was directly lobbied by the entrepreneur.

But Mr Johnson told MPs he had “nothing to conceal” and would be willing to share “all the details” with the Commons.

Speaking in the House, Sir Keir told MPs: “The Prime Minister is fixing tax breaks for his friends, the Chancellor is pushing the Treasury to help Lex Greensill, the Health Secretary is meeting Greensill for drinks, and David Cameron is texting anybody who will reply.

“Every day there are new allegations about this Conservative Government: dodgy PPE deals; tax breaks for their mates; the Health Secretary owns shares in a company delivering NHS services.

“Sleaze, sleaze, sleaze, and it’s all on his watch.

“With this scandal now firmly centred on him, how on earth does he expect people to believe that he is the person to clean this mess up?”

Mr Johnson replied: “I’ll tell you why this Government is doing the right thing at the right time, because the difference between us and the Labour Party is, I’m afraid, staringly obvious and we get on with taking the tough decisions to protect the people of this country and to take our country forward – uniting and levelling up.”

Mr Johnson defended the Government’s procurement during the pandemic and criminal justice reforms, adding: “Captain Hindsight snipes continually from the sidelines, this Government gets on with delivering on the people’s priorities.”

Earlier, Sir Keir asked: “What does the Prime Minister think is the right thing to do if he receives a text message from a billionaire Conservative supporter asking him to fix tax rules?”

Mr Johnson responded: “If he’s referring to the request from James Dyson, I make absolutely no apology at all for shifting heaven and earth and doing everything I possibly could, as I think any prime minister would in those circumstances, to secure ventilators for the people of this country.

“And to save lives and to roll out a ventilator procurement which the Labour-controlled Public Accounts Committee themselves said was a benchmark for procurement.”

Sir Keir asked how many people with Mr Johnson’s personal number had been given preferential treatment by the Prime Minister.

He told MPs: “Let’s be clear what these texts show. The Prime Minister was lobbied by a wealthy businessman and a close friend for a change in the tax rules, tax rules.

“The Prime Minister responded, ‘I’ll fix it’, then after a discussion with the Chancellor – who everybody seems to be lobbying these days – the Prime Minister texted his friend to say, ‘it’s fixed’. How many other people with the Prime Minister’s personal number has he given preferential treatment to?”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford asked the Prime Minister to publish all personal exchanges he had had over Covid-19 contracts (House of Commons/PA)

Mr Johnson responded: “I recall (Sir Keir) at the time saying that we should do everything that we could to get more ventilators, and indeed he congratulated the rollout of the ventilators, he said well done to everybody involved for the ventilator challenge.”

The Prime Minister went on to recall the challenges faced by the Government at the start of the pandemic, adding: “I think it was entirely the right thing to do to work with all potential makers of ventilators at that time and, by the way, so does the former leader of the Labour party, a man to whom I think he should listen, Tony Blair.”

Sir Keir went on to claim there was “one rule for those who’ve got the Prime Minister’s phone number, another for everybody else” and asked how Mr Johnson would respond to nurses wanting a pay rise or self-employed workers excluded from Covid-19 support schemes if they got in touch.

Asked by SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford to publish all personal exchanges he had had over Covid-19 contracts, Mr Johnson replied: “There’s absolutely nothing to conceal about this and I am happy to share all the details with the House, as indeed I have shared them with my officials immediately.”