Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer clash over Brexit during PMQs

9 December 2020, 13:34

By Megan White

Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer clashed over Brexit during Prime Minister's Questions, with the Labour leader accusing the Prime Minister of "dithering" in securing a deal.

Sir Keir questioned why anyone should believe what Boris Johnson says about Brexit after the PM's "oven ready deal" comment a year ago.

But Mr Johnson hit back, accusing the Labour leader of "silence" on the matter and saying his oven-ready deal was the Withdrawal Agreement.

Read more: Boris Johnson to travel to Brussels for last-ditch Brexit trade talks

Read more: Michael Gove tells LBC 'significant political shove' is needed in Brexit negotiations

The Prime Minister will head to Brussels on Wednesday for dinner with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a last-ditch attempt to secure a post-Brexit trade deal.

Earlier, Michael Gove told LBC that he hopes the trip and bid to make a breakthrough in negotiations will provide a "significant political shove".

Sir Keir said in the House of Commons: "12 months ago he told the British people that he had an oven-ready deal. He didn't say he had half a deal, he didn't say the next stage will be very, very difficult.

"In fact he told the British people - this was before the election - he faced them and he told them, these were his words, that 'the chances of no deal were absolutely zero'.

"So, a year on, why should anyone who trusted the Prime Minister when he said he had a deal - including his Chancellor apparently - believe a word that he says now?"

Mr Johnson replied: "I hesitate to accuse (Sir Keir) of deliberately trying to mislead people, but let's be in no doubt that we had an oven-ready deal which was the Withdrawal Agreement by which the people voted for, as he rightly points out, by which this country left the customs union and left the single market and delivered on our promise.

"I can tell him that whatever happens, and you know he must know this, that whatever happens from January 1, this country will be able to get on with our points-based immigration system which we have put into law in fulfilment of our manifesto commitment, we'll be able to get on with instituting free ports, low tax free ports, in places where jobs and growth are most needed around the country.

"We'll be able to honour our promise to the British people and institute higher animal welfare standards, and we'll be able to do free trade deals and we'll get our money back as well."

Sir Keir said "it would the British people who pay the price" if there is no trade deal with the EU.

He also asked the PM to tell MPs how many of the 50,000 customs agents will be in place on January 1, with the Prime Minister not offering a figure.

Sir Keir said: "Last September the Prime Minister actually hit the nail on the head when he said that leaving without a deal would be, in his words, 'a failure of statecraft'.

"It would. It would be a total failure and it would the British people who pay the price.

"Does the Prime Minister agree with his own spending watchdog the OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) that the cost of that failure of leaving the EU with no deal would be higher unemployment, higher inflation and a smaller economy?"

The Prime Minister replied: "The more he talks about Brexit, the more I can see why he tried to avoid the subject for the last year."

He added: "We've invested £1 billion in getting this country ready for whatever trading relationship is on January 1 and £84 million into supporting customs agents across the UK."