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9 March 2022

What we learned from this week’s PMQs

Keir Starmer pressured Boris Johnson on the cost-of-living crisis as partisan politics returned.

By Freddie Hayward

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, had not addressed the House of Commons in a stirring and historic speech yesterday. Since the invasion of Ukraine, the tone in the Commons has been united in opposing Vladimir Putin’s aggression and broadly supportive of the British government’s response. 

No more. The House returned to boisterous and combative form during today’s PMQs. Boris Johnson once again called Keir Starmer “Captain Hindsight”. The Labour leader used his six questions to pressure the Prime Minister on the rising cost of living. Starmer accused the Tories of “protecting energy profits not working people”, while Johnson threw back that Labour had not built enough nuclear power plants when it was in power over a decade ago. Starmer has told his MPs to focus on the rising cost of living, which, with the impact of sanctions on Russia yet to be fully felt, will only continue.  

The question of the government’s muddled response to the Ukrainian refugee crisis was left to Ian Blackford, the leader of the SNP at Westminster. Two million refugees have now fled Ukraine, more than over a million arriving in Poland. Yet the British government has only issued 760 visas so far. Disapproval has spread to Tory backbenchers. Julian Smith, a senior Tory MP, urged the Prime Minister to address the government’s “tone” on the refugee crisis and adopt a more “humane response”.

In a move suggesting a faltering confidence in Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, Johnson confirmed that Michael Gove, not Patel, would make an announcement on refugees in coming days. This is presumably the already announced sponsorship scheme that is yet to be set up.

Nonetheless, it wasn’t a topic for the main exchange between Starmer and Johnson. Starmer only addressed the crisis in Ukraine in his sixth question, by which point the partisan atmosphere of parliament had been restored.

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