Boris Johnson today came under fire at Prime Minister’s Questions over a string of U-turns - only for another one to be announced with easing of lockdown restrictions being ditched for two communities.
“Following a significant change in the level of infection rates over the last few days, a decision has been taken that Bolton and Trafford will now remain under existing restrictions,” he said.
“This decision has been made in collaboration with local leaders after reviewing the latest data. We continually monitor outbreaks across the country, and have seen infection rates increase more than three times in Bolton in under a week, and double in Trafford since the last review.”
The U-turn means local residents still cannot meet people outside their “bubbles” either indoors in homes or in gardens.
Just minutes earlier, Sir Keir Starmer had accused Mr Johnson of “making it up as he goes along” as he tore into the Government’s record on dealing with coronavirus.
He added: “Even his own MPs have run out of patience.
He cited one saying: “It’s mess after mess, his own MPs, U-turn after U-turn, it’s a fundamental issue of competence, God knows what’s going on, there’s no grip. His own MPs are right aren’t they?”
Responding, Mr Johnson said: “This is a leader of the Opposition who backed remaining in the EU and now is totally silent on the subject...this is a leader of the Opposition who supported an IRA-condoning politician who wanted to get out of Nato and now says absolutely nothing. This is a leader of the Opposition who sat on the front bench whilst there was anti-Semitism...”
Mr Johnson’s comments were cut off by Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle who called for Order and later, after Sir Keir voiced fury at the IRA allegation, asked if the Prime Minister wanted to withdraw it.
Mr Johnson declined, replying that Sir Keir’s “protestations...would have been more in order throughout the long years in which he supported” Jeremy Corbyn.
Sir Keir, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, retorted frostily: “When the Prime Minister has worked with the intelligence and security forces prosecuting criminals and terrorists he can lecture me.”
The first PMQs since MPs returned from their summer break from Parliament, started with Sir Keir attacking Mr Johnson over the A-level and GCSE exams fiasco which saw a system using an algorithm for results being ditched and grades predicted by teachers used instead.
The Labour leader asked the Prime Minister when he was first told about the flawed system, adding: “He either knew of the problem with the algorithm and did nothing or he didn’t know when he should have.”
Mr Johnson hit back, pointing the finger of blame at exam regulator Ofqual.
“Ofqual made it absolutely clear time and again that in their view the system that was in place was robust. Ofqual is an independent organisation and credit had to be given to their views,” he said.
He accused Sir Keir of “undermining confidence” in the return of schools in England, claiming pupils are “going back to school in record numbers” despite “all the gloom” from the Labour leader Sir Keir said “school is safe” after being challenged by the Prime Minister, having previously stopped short of saying so.
However, the Prime Minister came back on the exams situation, probing: “Is he now saying that those grades aren’t right or is it just Captain Hindsight, leaping on a bandwagon, opposing a policy that he supported two weeks ago?”
But Sir Keir responded: “The problem is he’s governing in hindsight, that’s why he’s making so many mistakes.
“It’s the same every time, pretend the problem doesn’t exist, brush away scrutiny, make the wrong decision then blame somebody else.”
On ending the furlough scheme in October, Sir Keir warned: “The jobs of millions of people are at risk, the longer he delays, the more they’re at risk, so will he act, finally get this decision right and commit to extend the furlough for those sectors and those workers that desperately need it?”
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford also warned if the scheme was not kept going then the Government would be making “the political choice to accept levels of unemployment last seen under Thatcher in the early 1980s”
Mr Johnson responded: “Members opposite of all parties seem to want to extend the furlough scheme which has already cost this country £40 billion... supported 11 million people, but after all keeps them in suspended animation and prevents them from going to work.
“What we want to do is get people back to work and that’s why I hope he (Mr Blackford) will instead support our Kickstarter scheme to get young people into jobs and support them in those jobs.”
Sir Keir also criticised the Prime Minister for not meeting members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group but the PM made clear this decision had been taken because it had launched legal action against the Government.