Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer’s fiery PMQs exchanges in full: How PM and Labour leader went to war over No11 flat and ‘let the bodies pile high’ comment
An enraged Boris Johnson traded blows with Keir Starmer today after the elections watchdog launched a formal probe into whether ‘offences’ have been committed in the Downing Street flat row.
They also clashed over the disputed claims that Mr Johnson said he would rather see ‘bodies pile up’ than trigger another lockdown last Autumn.
Here are the exchanges in full:
Sir Keir Starmer: ‘Mr Speaker, it was reported this week including in the Daily Mail, the BBC and ITV, backed up by numerous sources that at the end of October the Prime Minister said he would rather have, and I quote, “bodies pile high” than implement another lockdown.
‘Can the Prime Minister tell the House categorically, yes or no, did he make those remarks or remarks to that effect?’
Boris Johnson: ‘No, Mr Speaker, and I think the right honourable gentleman is a lawyer I am given to understand and I think if he is going to repeat allegations like that he should come to this House and substantiate those allegations and say where he heard them and who exactly is supposed to have said those.
Boris Johnson traded blows with Keir Starmer today after the elections watchdog launched a formal probe into whether ‘offences’ have been committed in the Downing Street flat row
‘Who exactly is supposed to have said those things Mr Speaker? Because what I certainly can tell him, he asks about the October decisions, they were very bitter, very difficult, decisions as they would be for any prime minister, Mr Speaker, because no one wants to put this country into lockdown with all the consequences that means for loss of education, for the damage to peoples’ live chances to the huge medical backlog that it entails.
‘But it was thanks to that lockdown, the tough decisions that we took, thanks to the heroic efforts of the British people that we have got through to this stage in the pandemic where we find ourselves rolling out our vaccine where we have done 50 per cent of the population, 25 per cent of the adult population have now had two doses, Mr Speaker.
‘Lockdowns are miserable. Lockdowns are appalling things to have to do. But I have to say that I believe we had absolutely no choice.’
Sir Keir Starmer: ‘Well, somebody here isn’t telling the truth. The House will have heard the Prime Minister’s answer and I remind him the ministerial code says and I quote “ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”.
‘I will leave it there for now. Turning to another issue, there will be further on this, believe you me, who initially and Prime Minister, initially is the key word here, who initially paid for the redecoration of his Downing Street flat?’
Boris Johnson: ‘Mr Speaker, when it comes to misleading parliament you may recollect it was only a few weeks ago that he said he didn’t oppose this Government, this country, leaving the European Medicines Agency, a fact that he was then forced to retract, and leaving the European medicines Agency was absolutely invaluable for our vaccine rollout.
‘Actually it was just last week that he said that James Dyson was a personal friend of mine, a fact that James Dyson has corrected in the newspaper this morning.
‘As for the latest stuff that he is bringing up he should know that I paid for Downing Street refurbishment personally, Mr Speaker, and any further declaration that I have to make, if any, I will be advised upon by Lord Geidt.
‘But he talks about housing costs, Mr Speaker, the people of this country can make their own decision in just eight days’ time because on average Labour councils charge you £93 more in Band D than Conservative councils and Liberal Democrat councils charge you £120 more.
‘That I think is the issue upon which the British people would like him to focus.’
Sir Keir Starmer: ‘Mr Speaker, normally when people don’t want to incriminate themselves they go “no comment”.
‘Let me ask this. Let’s explore this a bit further, Prime Minister. Let’s ask it a different way.
‘This is the initial invoice, Prime Minister, either the taxpayer paid the initial invoice or it was the Conservative Party or it was a private donor or it was the Prime Minister.
‘So I am making it easy for the Prime Minister, it is now multiple choice. There are only four options. It should be easier than finding the “chatty rat”, Mr Speaker.
‘So I ask the Prime Minister again, who paid the initial invoice for the redecoration of the Prime Minister’s flat. The initial invoice.’
Boris Johnson: ‘I have given him the answer and the answer is I have covered the costs and I think most people will find it absolutely bizarre, and of course there is an Electoral Commission investigating this, and I can tell him that I conformed in full with the code of conduct, with the ministerial code, and officials have been advising me throughout this whole thing.
Sir Keir repeatedly demanded to know who originally paid for the No11 refurbishment
‘But I think people would think it absolutely bizarre that he is focusing on this issue when what people want to know is what plans a Labour government might have to improve the life of people in this country.
‘And let me tell you, he talks about housing again, we are helping people, I would rather not spend taxpayers’ money by the way like the last Labour government which spent £500,000 of taxpayers’ money on the Downing Street flat, yes, they did, I would much rather help people get on the property ladder and it is this Conservative government that has built 244,000 homes in the last year which is a record over 30 years.
‘This is a government that gets on with delivering on the peoples’ priorities while he continually raises I think issues that most people would find irrelevant to their concerns.’
Sir Keir Starmer: ‘Mr Speaker, he talks of priorities, what is he spending his time doing? This is a Prime Minister who during the pandemic was nipping out of meetings to choose wallpaper at £840 a roll.
‘Last week, just last week, he spent his time phoning journalists to moan about his old friend Dominic Cummings and he is telling the civil service to find out who paid for the redecoration of his flat.
‘The Cabinet Secretary has been asked to investigate who paid for the refurbishments in the flat. Why doesn’t the Prime Minister just tell him? That would be the end of the investigation.
‘Mr Speaker, it has been widely reported that Lord Brownlow who just happens to have been given a peerage by the Conservative Party was asked to donate £58,000 to help repay for the cost of this refurbishment.
‘Can the Prime Minister, if he is so keen to answer, confirm, did Lord Brownlow make that payment for that purpose?’
Boris Johnson: ‘Mr Speaker, I think I have answered this question several times and the answer is that I have covered the costs, I have met the requirements that I have been advised to meet in full, and when it comes to the taxpayer and the cost of Number 10 Downing Street, it was the previous Labour government, I think Tony Blair racked up a bill of £350,000 and I think what the people of this country want to see if minimising taxpayer expense, they want to see a government that is focused on their needs and delivering more homes for the people of this country and cutting council tax which is what we are doing.
‘It is on that basis that I think people are going to judge our parties on May 6.’
Sir Keir Starmer: ‘Answer the question. That is what the public scream at their televisions every PMQs. Answer the question. The Prime Minister hasn’t answered the question. He knows he hasn’t answered the question. He never answers the question.
‘The Prime Minister will be aware that he is required to declare any benefits that relate to his political activities, including loans or credit arrangements, within 28 days.
‘He will also know that any donation must be recorded in the register for ministers’ interests and that under the law any donation of over £500 to a political party must be registered and declared.
‘So the rules are very clear. The Electoral Commission now think that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred.
‘That is incredibly serious. Can the Prime Minister tell the House, does he believe that any rules or laws have been broken in relation to the refurbishment of the Prime Minister’s flat?’
Boris Johnson: ‘No, I don’t, Mr Speaker. What I believe has been strained to breaking point is the credulity of the public and he has half an hour every week to put serious and sensible questions to me about the state of the pandemic, about the vaccine rollout, about what we are doing to support our NHS, about what we are doing to fight crime, about what we are doing to bounce back from this pandemic, about the economic recovery, about jobs for the people of this country, and he goes on and on, Mr Speaker, about wallpaper when as I have told him umpteen times now, I paid for it.’
Sir Keir Starmer: ‘Mr Speaker, can I remind the Prime Minister of the Nolan Principles which are meant to govern the behaviour of those in public office.
‘They are these: Selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
‘Instead, what do we get from this Prime Minister and this Conservative Government? Dodgy contracts, jobs for their mates and cash for access and who is at the heart of it? The Prime Minister. Major sleaze sitting there.
‘Mr Speaker, meanwhile, he talks about priorities, crime is going up, NHS waiting lists are at record levels and millions of people are worried about their jobs including Liberty Steel.
Boris Johnson (left) today flatly denied that he had suggested he would rather ‘let bodies pile up’ than trigger another lockdown last Autumn during brutal PMQs clashes with Keir Starmer (right)
‘Mr Speaker, don’t the British people deserve a prime minister they can trust and a government that isn’t mired in sleaze, cronyism and scandal?’
Boris Johnson: ‘Mr Speaker, last week he came to this chamber and he attacked me for talking to James Dyson about ventilators when we are now sending ventilators to help the people of India and the following day, Mr Speaker, the Labour frontbench said that any prime minister in my position would have done exactly the same thing.
‘Was it only a few months ago that they were actually attacking Kate Bingham, saying she was a crony, when she helped to set up the vaccine taskforce and delivered millions of vaccines for the people of this country, helping us to get out of the pandemic.
‘This is a government that is getting on with delivering on the peoples’ priorities.
‘We are rolling out many more nurses, 10,000 more nurses in the NHS now than there were this time last year, 8,771 more police officers on our streets now than there were when I was elected, including tougher sentences, Mr Speaker, for serious sexual and violent criminals which he opposed, Mr Speaker.
‘And by the way, I forgot to mention it, last night our friends in the European Union voted to approve our Brexit deal which he opposed and which enables us not just to take back control of our borders, Mr Speaker, but to deliver freedom, which it does, which he fervently opposed, enabling us amongst other things to deal with such threats as the European Super League, Mr Speaker, but it enabled us to deliver free ports in places like Teesside and above all taking back control of our country has allowed us to deliver the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, as he well knows, which would not have been possible if we had stayed in the European Medicines Agency which he voted for.
‘Mr Speaker, week after week the people of this country can see the difference between a Labour Party that twists and turns with the wind, that thinks of nothing except playing political games, whereas this party gets on with delivering on the peoples’ priorities and I hope that people will vote Conservative on May 6.’
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