Sir Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson’s Government of a “clean sweep” of ministerial code breaches, as he urged the Prime Minister to stop “wasting” taxpayers’ cash.
The Labour leader highlighted Mr Johnson’s foreword to the code last year in which he insisted there must be no bullying, no harassment, no leaking, no misuse of taxpayer money and no actual or perceived conflicts of interest.
Sir Keir used Prime Minister’s Questions to judge Mr Johnson’s record against each point, before claiming there is a case to suggest each one has been breached.
The decision to keep Home Secretary Priti Patel in her post following a report into her conduct which found she had shouted and sworn at staff, the leaking of Covid-19 restrictions, and personal protective equipment (PPE) contracts were among the issues raised by Sir Keir.
But Mr Johnson defended his Government’s response to the pandemic and accused the Opposition leader of “concentrating on trivia”, of displaying a “deep underlying Labour hatred of the private sector”, and failing to recognise the efforts made to secure vital equipment in difficult circumstances.
In their final exchanges, Sir Keir said: “I think it’s a clean sweep – bullying, harassment, leaking, wasting public money and obvious conflicts of interest.
“It’s the same old story: one rule for the British public, another for the Prime Minister and his friends.
“Just look at the contrast between his attitude to spraying public money on contracts that don’t deliver, and his attitude to pay rises for the key workers who kept the country going during this pandemic.
“If you’ve got a hotline to ministers, you get a blank cheque, but if you’re on the front line tackling Covid, you’re picking up the bill.
“So will the Prime Minister finally get his priorities right, stop wasting taxpayers’ money and give police officers, firefighters, care workers and other key workers the pay rise they so obviously deserve?”
Mr Johnson replied: “It’s this party and this Government that has given key workers, public sector workers, above inflation pay rises this year as he knows – for police, for the Army, for nurses who are now getting 12.6% more than they were three years ago.
“And it’s this Government that will continue increasing the living wage.”
Sir Keir had opened by raising questions over Ms Patel, asking: “What message does the Prime Minister think it sends that the independent adviser on standards (Sir Alex Allan) has resigned but the Home Secretary is still in post?”
But Mr Johnson issued a staunch defence of his Home Secretary, telling MPs: “Sir Alex’s decisions are entirely a matter for him, but the Home Secretary has apologised for any way in which her conduct fell short – and frankly I make no apology for sticking up, for standing by a Home Secretary who, as I’ve said just now, is getting on with delivering the people’s priorities.”
After he asked about leaks, Sir Keir urged the Prime Minister to “come clean” on how much money had been wasted on unusable PPE equipment.
He said: “A new report this morning by the National Audit Office identifies a further set of orders totalling £214 million for face masks for the NHS that it can’t use.”
Mr Johnson responded: “Actually, 99.5% of the PPE, the 32 billion items of PPE that this country has secured, conformed entirely to our clinical needs once we checked it.”
Sir Keir also suggested Mr Johnson either does not know how much taxpayers’ money has been wasted or “he doesn’t care”, before he highlighted concerns over actual or perceived conflicts of interest.
He said: “Where do I start on this one? Last week we learnt suppliers with political connections were 10 times more likely to be awarded Government contracts.
“This week, the Sunday Times reports that the Health Secretary appointed one of his closest friends to a key advisory role. This friend is also a major shareholder in a firm that specialises in lobbying the Government on behalf of its clients, and some of those clients have secured tens of millions of pounds of Government contracts during the pandemic.
“Was the Prime Minister aware of this apparent conflict of interest?”
Mr Johnson said any conflicts of interest would be evident from the publication of the contract details, adding in the Commons: “He just seems to be attacking the Government for shifting heaven and earth, as we did, to get the medicines, to get the PPE, to get the equipment, to get the treatments that this country needed.”