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27 January 2021updated 07 Sep 2021 7:16am

What we learned from this week’s PMQs

“There will indeed be a time when we must learn the lessons of what has happened... I don't think that moment is now," said Boris Johnson. 

By Ailbhe Rea

Boris Johnson says there’ll be a time to learn from the UK’s death toll, but not yet

“I don’t think that moment is now,” the Prime Minister said, in a mostly sombre Prime Minister’s Questions, following the announcement that the UK has reached 100,000 deaths from coronavirus, the highest total in Europe. But he gave a hint of his future defence of the government’s handling of the pandemic: “There are no easy answers. Perpetual lockdown is no answer.” This is not the first time Johnson has said this, implying that the only alternative would have been a lockdown for a year. (Those countries that have followed a Covid elimination strategy and have since opened up most of their economies suggest otherwise.) Finding ways to counter the Prime Minister’s line effectively will be one of the challenges for opposition in the months and years ahead.

Labour is calling for teachers and support staff to be prioritised for the vaccine

Keir Starmer said that keyworkers in critical professions should be added to the first phase of the vaccination programme, alongside those listed under the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) categories 5-9 (which encompass those aged over 50 and all individuals with underlying health conditions). Starmer called for teachers and support staff to be vaccinated over half term, which, as Stephen has outlined, wouldn’t address the main problem with reopening schools. There is a lot of expertise behind the JCVI’s recommendations and under the current programme teachers aged over 50 and those with health conditions will already be vaccinated as a priority. Labour’s keyworker proposal is a popular idea, but it pits the party against the experts. 

Conservative MPs from coastal areas are maintaining the pressure on Brexit red tape 

Sally-Ann Hart, the Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye, raised an ongoing grievance among MPs who represent fishing communities, both on the opposition benches and within the governing party, forcing Boris Johnson to agree with her that “there has been too much red tape” for the fishing industry as a result of Brexit. He promised further investment in fishing.

One Tory MP couldn’t resist a jibe at Boris Johnson’s last-minute decision making

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the Conservative MP for the Cotswolds, reflected the clamour among Conservative backbenchers for a full plan for reopening schools and for areas to move into less restrictive tiers. But his wording was more critical than Tory MPs typically allow themselves: he wanted to know that the British public would “finally” be able to plan ahead, and that the government would categorically avoid “making changes in future at 24 hours’ notice”. 

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