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20 May 2020updated 23 Jul 2021 9:33am

Nine things we learned from this week’s PMQs

Discharging patients into care homes without testing remains Labour's focus, and the Prime Minister's biggest weakness.

By Ailbhe Rea

The government has no plans to address the disproportionate likelihood of BAME deaths from Covid-19 “now”

PMQs began with a question from Labour MP Claudia Webbe as to whether the government would be taking action “now” to address the disportionate numbers of deaths from people who are black, Asian or from a minority ethnicity (BAME). The Prime Minister simply repeated what we already know: the eminent Professor Kevin Fenton is leading a report into Covid-19’s disproportionate impact on BAME communities, as was reported at the end of April. It won’t report until the end of the month.   

The failure to test patients being discharged into care homes remains Labour’s priority, and the most difficult question for Boris Johnson…

Keir Starmer dispensed with praise for the government’s approach this week, but retained his measured tone. The Labour leader cited the evidence given to the health select committee by the chief executive of Care England, as well as citing the government’s advice from between 2 and 15 April that “negative tests are not required prior to transfers [or] admissions into care homes”, and asked if it was indeed the case that people had been admitted into care homes without testing. The Prime Minister was visibly rattled as this line of inquiry continued, and the Speaker admonish the Health Secretary for his heckling of the Labour leader. Johnson’s only defence was that no one was discharged into a care home without the express approval of a clinician: which, of course, concedes the point on testing. 

… and there won’t be routine testing in care homes until June 

Although at pains to emphasise the numbers of tests being conducted in care homes “in ignorance of the facts”, the PM also conceded that testing of care home staff and residents won’t be routine for several weeks. At this point, the Prime Minsiter advised Keir Starmer that “his feigned ignorance doesn’t come [across] very well”, cautioning him to “abandon his slightly negative tone”.

The presence of slightly more Conservative MPs made no difference to the Prime Minister’s performance

Despite a widespread consensus that the Prime Minister’s poor performance at last week’s PMQs was due in part to the lack of a crowd for him to play to, a greater number of cheers and heckles from the Tory side this week made little difference. 

A test and trace programme “will be in place by 1 June”

Following probing from the Labour leader, the Prime Minister made this firm commitment that a test and trace programme will be in place by the beginning of June, and will be able to cope with 10,000 new cases per day.

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Labour is tabling an amendment to exempt NHS workers from the immigration health surcharge…

The party’s leader announced that Labour will hope to amend the immigration bill to correct what it describes as the “gross insult” to NHS workers from overseas who are required to pay this fee.

…but the Prime Minister is defending this politically tricky policy

Johnson seemed uncomfortable defending this policy, awkwardly mentioning that overseas NHS workers had saved his life, before insisting that the surcharge is vital to NHS funding, raising £900 million per year. The SNP’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, described the charge as “embarrassing”.

Starmer doesn’t want to wade into the debate over schools reopening

The Labour leader continues to steer clear of the ongoing debate over whether schools should reopen, instead focusing on test and trace, care homes and how the immigration bill will affect care workers. 

And finally, we also learned that…

Johnson is prepared to concede the point on a lack of women in government decision-making

The Prime Minister agreed with Labour MP Rosie Duffield that there is a problem with the under-representation of women in the government’s coronavirus response. He conceded the point in good – although arguably flippant – humour, saying he had taken “dramatic action” in the last two appointments he has made, both of whom have been women. 

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