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18 November 2020updated 23 Jul 2021 12:03pm

What happened in Boris Johnson’s first virtual PMQs

While drama in the Labour Party rumbled on in the background, PMQs exposed new areas of cross-party pressure on the government.

By Ailbhe Rea

Boris Johnson’s devolution comments continue to reverberate

The Prime Minister’s leaked comments to Conservative MPs that devolution has been “a disaster north of the border” were top of the opposition’s agenda today, as both Keir Starmer and Ian Blackford raised the issue. The Labour leader argued that the greatest danger to the stability to the Union is not the SNP, but the Prime Minister himself. Starmer found quiet agreement on the issue from the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, who had pushed back against the PM’s comments when they were first made. Today Ross began his ostensibly supportive question with a gentle mention of the benefits of local and regional growth deals, and of the Scottish and UK governments working together…

Financial support for self-isolation remains a key sticking point

Starmer used the Prime Minister’s current self-isolation as a way of highlighting ongoing issues with low compliance with the requirement to self-isolate due to a lack of financial support: he cited a figure estimating that only 11 per cent of those asked to self-isolate do so. Boris Johnson, as he is wont to do during these interactions, suggested that he thought that figure was wrong, but didn’t offer his own one. It remains a crucial weakness in the UK’s virus response, and one increasingly being highlighted by Conservative backbenchers. 

Conservative backbenchers and Labour are signing from the same hymn sheet on green investment

As Boris Johnson unveils his ten-point plan for a green recovery, PMQs saw a Conservative backbencher champion an idea proposed by Labour last week. Gareth Davies* urged the PM to consider a “national development bank” to fund investment in green infrastructure. A green investment bank, to replace what will be lost by leaving the European Investment Bank, was an idea put forward in Labour’s report last week into a green recovery, following a consultation with business leaders and climate experts. Boris Johnson did not rule the idea out. 

Pressure is building on government to devise a vaccine misinformation strategy

Damian Collins, a Conservative MP and longstanding champion of these issues, urged the PM to require social media companies to do more about anti-vax conspiracy theories on their platforms, amid concerns that anti-vax sentiment will affect the uptake of the Covid vaccine. The PM assured him that the government will be bringing in legislation on the issue shortly.

There was a Corbyn-shaped elephant in the room

The exchanges at today’s PMQs took place while drama rumbles on within the Labour Party over Jeremy Corbyn’s reinstatement as a party member by an NEC panel, but Keir Starmer’s decision not to restore the whip to the former party leader. The ongoing disagreement within the party didn’t receive a mention at PMQs. While PMQs is often the main political event of the day, today the real drama was elsewhere.

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This article was amended on 23 November to correct Gareth Bacon to Gareth Davies

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