Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer trade insults during heated PMQs

2 September 2020, 12:53 | Updated: 2 September 2020, 13:23

By Kate Buck

Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer have traded insults in a heated Prime Minister's Questions as Parliament returned from summer recess.

The Labour leader began the session questioning Mr Johnson on what he said was a "fiasco" over this year's exam results, in which the government was forced into a U-turn after tens of thousands of students had their results downgraded.

When asked by Sir Keir about when he knew about the problem with the algorithm that was used, Mr Johnson highlighted the stress pupils and parents have undergone before noting exams could not take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Prime Minister went on: "As a result of what we learned about the tests, the results that had come in, we did institute a change, we did act.

But unsatisfied with the answer, Sir Keir said Mr Johnson was "tin eared", and accused him of "making it up as he goes along".

Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer clashed in the Commons on Wednesday
Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer clashed in the Commons on Wednesday. Picture: PA

He added: "He's fooling nobody, even his own MPs have run out of patience."

But in response, Mr Johnson called Sir Keir "Captain Hindsight", and said he was "leaping on a bandwagon and opposing a policy he supported two weeks ago".

He also said: "This is a leader of the Opposition who backed remaining in the EU and now is totally silent on the subject, now has performed a U-turn. He backed - in fact he still does Mr Speaker - 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 the Speaker who called for Order.

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle asked if the Prime Minister wanted to withdraw his allegation he made about Sir Keir Starmer.

Boris Johnson replied: "I am very happy to say that I think... I listened to the protestations of the right honourable gentleman and think they have would have been more in order throughout the long years in which he supported a leader of the Labour Party (Jeremy Corbyn)..."

Sir Lindsay then signalled for Mr Johnson to sit down.

In response, Sir Keir said: "When the Prime Minister has worked with the intelligence and security forces prosecuting criminals and terrorists he can lecture me."

The Government performed another U-turn as PMQs was under way, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock announcing that coronavirus restrictions in Bolton and Trafford had been put back in place, hours after they were lifted.

Mr Hancock said: "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."

Mr Johnson has been under fire from Conservative backbenchers over the recent U-turns on issues such as face coverings and exam results.

Along with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, he will later meet with the 2019 intake of Tory MPs - some of whom are said to be "jittery" that they may lose their seats at the next election.

One of those attending the meeting said that the mood among the cohort was "fairly grim".

"Most are fed up of being made to look stupid and the membership are angry at how we look incompetent," they said.

On Tuesday, Mr Johnson told ministers that in the last few months they have been "sailing into the teeth of a gale, no question" when chairing his first Cabinet meeting after the return.

He said: "And I am no great nautical expert, but sometimes it is necessary to tack here and there in response to the facts as they change, in response to the wind's change, but we have been going steadily in the direction, in the course we set out, and we have not been blown off that course."