PMQs: Keir Starmer claims Boris Johnson ‘flailing around trying to blame others’ as leaders clash over school reopening
Keir Starmer challenged Boris Johnson in the Commons. (Parliament TV)
Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of trying to “blame others” for the decision not to press ahead with primary school reopenings before the summer, as the two leaders clashed at Prime Minister’s Questions.
The Labour leader said the PM had rebuffed attempts to put together a “national consensus” on getting children back in the classroom — and said ministers had presided over a “completely avoidable” mess.
But Mr Johnson said Sir Keir needed to “make up his mind” on whether schools reopening was a good thing and urged a “bit of support” for the Government’s plan.
The Commons sparring between the two party leaders came a day after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that plans to get all primary aged children back in school before the summer holidays have been scrapped.
Teachers will instead be given “flexibility” on whether to admit more children.
Pressing the PM in the Commons on Wednesday, Sir Keir said the Prime Minister had failed to provide “a robust national plan, consensus among all key stakeholders and strong leadership from the top” needed to get schools back into action.
“Parents have lost confidence in the government's approach, millions of children will miss six months’ worth of schooling and inequality will now go up,” he said.
And he claimed Mr Johnson had rejected his own calls weeks ago to set up a new “national task force” on the issue in a bid to get schools back open.
The Prime Minister shot back: “Last week he was telling the House that it was not yet safe for kids to go back to school.
“This week he's saying that not enough kids are going back to school.”
And he said he had contacted Sir Keir through “a modern device called the telephone” — but accused the Labour leader of having “deviated” from his own agreement with the Government’s approach.
That prompted Sir Keir to say: “The task force has never been the subject of a conversation between him and me one-to-one or in any other circumstance on the telephone. He knows it. So please drop that.”
And he added: “It’s no good, the Prime Minister flailing around trying to blame others.
“A month ago today — a month ago today — he made the announcement about schools, without consulting relevant parties, without warning about the dates and without any scientific backing for his proposal.
“It's time he took responsibility for his own failures, this mess was completely avoidable.”
Defending the Government’s actions, the Prime Minister said Labour “can’t have it both ways”.
He added: “What I think the message that teachers want to hear across the country is all parliamentarians in this House of Commons support the return of kids to school.
“And furthermore, that they are encouraging kids to come back to school because it is safe. Will he not say that?”
The two leaders also duked it out over the Government’s decision not to continue to offer free schools meals throughout the summer holidays, a move Sir Keir said would hit 1.3 million children in low-income families who rely on the existing voucher system.
The Prime Minister said the Government does not “normally continue with free school meals over the summer holidays”.
But he said ministers were “of course aware of the particular difficulties faced by vulnerable families”, and said £63m in extra welfare assistance would be provided to councils to help them assist “the most vulnerable families”.
He added: “This government has put its arms around the people of this country throughout this crisis.”