Sir Keir Starmer accused under-pressure Prime Minister Boris Johnson of “being too weak to lead” in a rowdy PMQs session today, with the Conservative Party sharply divided over the newly-imposed Omicron restrictions.
Starmer argued the public needed a leader with trust and authority to lead the UK through the pandemic but “instead we are burdened with the worst possible Prime Minister at the worst possible time”.
Johnson managed to pass new restrictive measures earlier this week but suffered the worst rebellion of his premiership as 100 Tory MPs voted against plans to make Covid-19 passes – dubbed ‘vaccine passports’ – compulsory for large gatherings.
The opposition leader criticised Johnson for failing to convince his backbenchers to support what he considered “vital public health measures”, which only passed with the support of the Labour Party.
The Labour leader said Johnson should use Christmas to “look in the mirror and ask himself if he has the authority to lead”.
Johnson tried to dismiss the criticisms as little more than party politics, adopting colourful sloganeering to make his points..
He said: “We vaccinate, they vacillate! They jabber, we jab! They play party politics, and we get on with the job!”
He argued the public can see the government is getting on with delivering priorities, such as offering the booster jab to all adults by the end of the year.
The Prime Minister said “that is what the people of this country are focused on, rather than the partisan trivia he raises”.
He also swerved criticising backbench MPs who voted against new restrictive measures such as vaccine passports and mask mandates indoors.
Labour is enjoying a nine-point poll lead in the polls – its best numbers since 2014 – with Starmer buoyed by a 13 per cent lead over Johnson on personal leadership ratings
The Conservative Party has been embroiled in multiple scandals over recent weeks, most recently facing renewed criticism after pictures of an illegal Christmas party last year were released to The Mirror, featuring former London-mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey.
This was emphasised in the House of Commons by Starmer, who in of his six questions said: “Can the Prime Minister not see that he has no hope of regaining the moral authority to deliver that message if he cannot be straight with the British public about the rule breaking in Downing Street last Christmas?”.
Stephen Hammond, a former minister and one of the Tory rebels on Tuesday night called on Johnson to “reset” his government to show that it is competent.
He told Times Radio there was “a lot of disgruntlement” about No 10’s poor handling of issues around standards in public life.
Meanwhile, City businesses have slammed the new pandemic restrictions and government calls for people to work from home, with the Confederation of British Industry urging the government to step in if measures continue after Christmas.