Boris Johnson today exaggerated his help for heating bills by a factor of 52 in a PMQs clash as Labour warned a spending “iceberg” is heading for poor Brits.
The Prime Minister made at least four false statements in one PMQs as he was challenged by deputy leader Angela Rayner – due to Keir Starmer being in isolation with Covid.
After his angry riposte Ms Rayner asked: “So Prime Minister, how’s it going, are you OK?”
Ms Johnson first said: “The Warm Home Discount already [means] 2.2million people supported to the tune of £140 a week.” But the figure is per year, not per week.
He then claimed Labour was showing “bare-faced cheek” by demanding the 5% VAT rate on energy bills is cut – something he said could happen during the Brexit referendum, but has since U-turned on.
Mr Johnson said: “Everybody knows full well it would be absolutely impossible if they were to do what Labour would do and go back into the EU, remain aligned with the EU single market. That is the objective of the Labour Party.”
Labour’s policy is not to re-enter the EU. The party backed a second referendum which could have cancelled Brexit, but has since abandoned that policy.
Keir Starmer said in 2020 he would “bring back” freedom of movement between the EU and UK, but U-turned on that policy once the Brexit deal was agreed.
A Labour spokesman said last year: “We’ve left the EU, we’ve left the economic and social arrangements of the EU and the government has secured the deal.
“The job of the Labour Party and the whole country now is to make this deal work.”
The PM also made a third false statement, claiming it was untrue that he’d said inflation concerns were “unfounded”.
“I said no such thing,” he claimed.
Yet in October he said: “People have been worrying about inflation for a very long time, I’m looking at robust economic growth, and by the way those fears have been unfounded.”
Ms Rayner later highlighted the false claim, saying: “I’m just wondering whether the Prime Minister would like to correct the record”.
He did not.
In a fourth false statement, he claimed Labour wanted lockdown when Omicron hit.
He said: “Never let it be forgotten that when Omicron hit this country what was their instinctive response, they said…that we needed a road map to lockdown, if we’d listened to them we wouldn’t have anybody working at all.”
Keir Starmer said on December 22 he was not calling for a lockdown.
The pair had a feisty clash after Ms Rayner was drafted in with hours to spare to replace Covid-isolating Keir Starmer.
MPs let up an ‘ooo’ as she joked she was “hearing there may be a vacancy for Prime Minister soon, so maybe I should have aspirations”.
It came after the PM joshed: “We know the future job she has in mind and I wish her well!”
He added: “She’s got a lot more energy than the current leader of the opposition”.
Attacking Mr Johnson’s “incompetent leadership”, she claimed “every time we are faced with a challenge, he denies there’s a problem” adding: “It’s not about brushing your hair, it’s about brushing up on your act.”
Boris Johnson hit back: “They carp from the sidelines, we get on with the job.”
Ms Rayner highlighted research by the Resolution Foundation that shows the average family faces a £1,200 hit in April.
National Insurance tax rises will hit at the same time as the rise in the energy price cap, which could send bills soaring £600 a year.
Ms Rayner said: “This is an iceberg right ahead, so will he finally stop and change course?
“Will he finally stop and change course or will he plough on towards what will be a disaster for thousands of families?”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner warned “millions of British workers now face a further pay cut and his Chancellor is handing them a tax hike”.
She said: “Inflation is about to hit 6%, that’s the highest rate since the early 90s when the Conservatives had been in power for over a decade. Marred in their sleaze, with a divided party. A Prime Minister losing the support of his backbenchers and governing shambolically and a Labour Party who is ready to take over and provide Britain with a better future.”
She added: “The Prime Minister promised wage rises would offset inflation, they haven’t and they won’t. Millions of British workers now face a further pay cut and his Chancellor is handing them a tax hike, what will the Prime Minister do to get a grip?”
Mr Johnson replied: “We know the future job that she has in mind and wish her well, but what we are focused on is delivering jobs for the British people….
“There are now record numbers of people in work, 420,000 more than there were before the pandemic began. We have youth unemployment at a record low and never let it be forgotten that when Omicron hit this country what was their instinctive response, they said…that we needed a road map to lockdown, if we’d listened to them we wouldn’t have anybody working at all.”
Angela Rayner accused Boris Johnson of being someone who “always gives with one hand and takes away with the other”, adding: “Under this Prime Minister the country is worse off.
“Prices for everyday goods are soaring out of control, hard-earned savings will be hit and the wages of working people won’t go as far.”
Ms Rayner said “serious solutions” are needed to stop people “falling into poverty or debt” as a result of inflation.
She added: “Instead, we have this Prime Minister and his incompetent leadership, and every time we are faced with a challenge he denies there’s a problem, he tries to laugh it off, he looks for someone else to blame.
“So can I suggest to the Prime Minister it’s not about brushing your hair, it’s about brushing up on your act. Does he accept his incompetence is taking our country backwards and costing our country dear?”
Boris Johnson replied: “No, what I tell the House and tell the country is that Labour incompetence has ruined this country time and time again.”
The PM’s Press Secretary doubled down on Mr Johnson’s claims, declining to correct the record.
She told journalists: “I’m happy to go over what the Labour Shadow Cabinet have said on coronavirus measures, particularly just before Christmas if that is helpful – they were calling for tougher measures and a roadmap back into lockdown so that is simply what he was talking about.”
She added: “The Shadow Chancellor just before Christmas said that the government should introduce new rules including social distancing, rules that the number of households could mix…
“The Shadow Health Secretary said Plan B is insufficient and there are additional measures that are necessary.”
While Rachel Reeves said “inaction is no longer an option”, and Wes Streeting said the PM was “too weak to get any measures to keep the country safe through his cabinet”, neither called for a lockdown.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.