PMQs: Boris faces calls to extend furlough beyond end of October

23 September 2020, 12:48 | Updated: 23 September 2020, 13:23

By Megan White

Boris Johnson has been urged to continue the furlough scheme beyond the end of October by Sir Keir Starmer in light of the new coronavirus restrictions.

The Labour leader criticised the Prime Minister for phasing out the scheme, which ends at the end of next month, despite implementing new measures.

Sir Keir said “health measures and economic measures are now dangerously out of sync” and called on the Government to “support the businesses affected.”

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But Mr Johnson insisted that the Government was supporting businesses and that they “want to depress the virus but keep pupils in school and keep our economy moving.”

Sir Keir’s calls were backed by SNP leader Ian Blackford, who called for "an immediate extension, no half-measures" to the scheme.

He said “time is running out, workers are facing the dole today.”

The Chancellor has been urged to "get around the table" and fast-track new job support plans amid reports he is working on a new German-style scheme to avoid mass unemployment once furlough ends.

Mr Sunak is said to be weighing up a new scheme as part of a wider emergency support programme as pressure mounts on the Government to help businesses survive a second wave of coronavirus.

Sir Keir reiterated that the Labour Party supports the new restrictions, but said “at the same time, [the Prime Minister] is phasing out economic support.

He said: “Health measures and economic measures are now dangerously out of sync.

“Let me quote the Director General of the CBI: ‘There can be no avoiding the crushing blow new measures will bring for thousands of firms.’

Labour leader Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons
Labour leader Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Picture: PA

“It’s vital, she says, that all announcements of restrictions go hand-in-hand with clarity on the business support to protect jobs.

“Why wasn’t that announced yesterday?”

Mr Johnson responded: “Let’s be in absolutely no doubt that the work this Government has done to protect the economy of this country, to support the jobs of 12 million people through the furlough scheme – an overall expenditure of about £160 billion – has been unexampled anywhere else in the world.

“I think he should pay tribute to the Chancellor and his work.

“And we will go forward with further creative and imaginative schemes to keep our conomy moving, and that is the essence of our plan.

“The essence of what we’re saying is we want to depress the virus but keep pupils in school and keep our economy moving.

“That is the single best thing we can do to support firms across the country.”

He quizzed the Prime Minister on what support is available now – “particularly in light of the restrictions announced yesterday.”

Sir Keir said: “This is not theoretical – yesterday, 6,000 jobs were lost at Whitbread, one of the major employers in the hospitality sector.

“The CBI, the TUC and trade unions, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chamber of Commerce, the Governor of the Bank of England – they’re all calling on the Prime Minister to stop and rethink.

“Support the businesses affected, don’t withdraw furlough.

“We’ve been saying it for months, when is the Prime Minister finally going to act?”

The Prime Minister responded “These are, indeed, tough times, and I have no doubt that many businesses, many employees, are feeling a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty.

“We will do our level best to protect them throughout this period.

“But we will get through this through precisely the methods we have outlined and that were agreed upon in this House yesterday.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford also urged Mr Johnson to "show the leadership required" and announce an extension of the furlough scheme.

He told the Commons: "Our First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon) has shown leadership on all fronts during this pandemic. However, the responsibility and power for extending the furlough scheme lie with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.

"The Prime Minister must announce an immediate extension, no half-measures, no half-baked projects, to this vital and life-saving scheme. Will the Prime Minister show the leadership required and save the jobs?"

Mr Johnson responded: "I notice that both (Mr Blackford) and (Sir Keir Starmer) now support an indefinite extension of the furlough scheme... that's what he said.

"What we will do, as I've said throughout, is continue to put our arms around the people of this country going through a very tough time and come up with the appropriate, creative and imaginative schemes to keep them in work and keep the economy moving."

Mr Blackford said that the last thing Scots at risk of losing their jobs due to the furlough scheme ending want is a hug from Boris Johnson.

He said: "Yesterday, the only reassurance the Prime Minister gave those Scottish workers (was) saying that he would throw his arms around them. Prime Minister, I can tell you the last thing those 61,000 Scots are looking for is a hug from you.

"They need the security of knowing that they can hold onto their jobs and incomes, for themselves and their families."

Mr Johnson responded: "I can imagine that (Mr Blackford) doesn't want a hug from me, but that was a metaphor and what we're... perhaps it's physically incarnated by the £12.7 billion of Barnett Consequentials that we're seeing come from the UK Exchequer to support people across the whole of our country."