Johnson squandered boost from Covid vaccinations, says Starmer


Boris Johnson squandered the UK’s advantage from its rapid vaccination programme by failing to block arrivals from India early enough, thus allowing the Delta variant of Covid to become entrenched, Keir Starmer has told MPs.

Deciding to not use prime minister’s questions to press Johnson about messages published just beforehand showing the prime minister called Matt Hancock “hopeless”, the Labour leader instead lambasted the borders policy.

While evidence of a highly transmissible new variant in India was apparent from early April, India was not placed on the UK’s “red list” for border controls until 23 April, by which point 20,000 more people had arrived, Starmer said.

“What on earth did the prime minister expect to be the consequences of that?” Starmer asked, saying the delay was the reason why the next stage of Covid reopening had been postponed from 21 June to 19 July.

“The British people did their bit by following the rules and getting vaccinated but the prime minister squandered it by letting a new variant into the country. That was not inevitable. It was the consequences of his indecision,” he said.

Johnson might perhaps have expected Starmer to ask about a new blogpost by his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, including a screenshot of a message from March last year in which the prime minister called Hancock, the health secretary, “totally fucking hopeless”.

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader, did mention the messages in one of his questions, but Johnson ignored the issue.

Starmer instead contrasted the work of health services during the pandemic with what he called Johnson’s delays over India.

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“While the NHS was vaccinating, he was vacillating,” he said. “It’s because of his indecision that our borders stayed open. It’s because of his indecision that India stayed off the red list. It’s because of his indecision that during that period 20,000 people came to this country from India. The consequences are now clear.”

Johnson responded by saying the government had taken “the most drastic steps possible” and that the UK had in place the “toughest border measures anywhere in the world”. The latter is not correct given that some countries, notably Australia and New Zealand, have blocked almost all arrivals.

Starmer was scathing in response, saying: “If the prime minister put as much effort into protecting our borders as he does coming up with ridiculous excuses, the country would be reopening next week.”

The Labour leader went on: “The prime minister’s indecision at the borders has blown in. The problem with everything the prime minister says is that we’ve heard it all before, so many times.

“Last March he said we could turn the tide in 12 weeks. Then he said it will all be over by Christmas. Then we were told 21 June would be freedom day. Now we’re told 19 July is terminus day. The British people don’t expect miracles, but they do expect basic competence and honesty.”



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