PMQs: Boris Johnson and Angela Rayner clash over energy prices and inflation
Boris Johnson and Angela Rayner have clashed over energy prices and the wider cost of living in the first prime minister’s questions of the year, during which Johnson made a series of false statements to advance his arguments.
Rayner, standing in for Keir Starmer after the Labour leader again tested positive for Covid, castigated Johnson over the impact of inflation and rising bills, saying the prime minister was “governing shambolically” and trying to blame others.
In response, Johnson talked up rising employment figures and government schemes to help with energy bills. He also made three incorrect statements in his comments to Rayner.
The Labour deputy leader began by challenging Johnson over inflation, saying: “In October the prime minister said that fears about inflation were unfounded, but working people across the country are starting the new year facing rising bills and ballooning prices. So how did he get it so wrong?”
Johnson replied: “Of course I said no such thing, because inflation is always something that we have to be careful about.”
But in an interview with Sky News in October, he had said: “People have been worried about inflation for a very long time, and those fears have been unfounded.”
At the end of PMQs, Rayner raised a point of order, noting this and asking if Johnson “would like to correct the record”, which he did not, instead beginning a statement on Covid.
Rayner said inflation was heading towards 6%, and would badly affect people’s livelihoods and savings. She went on: “Mired in their sleaze, with a divided party, the prime minister is losing the support of his backbenchers and governing shambolically – and a Labour party ready to take over.” She added: “What will the prime minister do to get a grip of this?”
Johnson replied by saying he was “delivering jobs for British people”, and said that when the Omicron variant emerged, Labour “said that we needed a roadmap to lockdown”, which would have harmed the economy.
However, Labour called only for the so-called plan B suite of restrictions, such as mask use and home working, which Johnson himself imposed soon afterwards.
Turning to energy prices, Rayner reiterated Labour’s demand – one shared by a number of Tory backbenchers – for VAT to be removed from fuel bills, to lower prices.
“The prime minister pretends it’s not his fault,” she said. “He blames global forces. He blames the market. The prime minister has made political choices that have led us into this place. His government has failed to invest in long-term energy security.”
Energy prices would be a “seismic hit” for households, Rayner said. “Can’t the prime minister see what’s happening yet again? Working families are picking up the tab for his incompetence.”
Johnson responded by saying that removing VAT from fuel would be impossible if he were to “do what Labour would do, and go back into the EU”. However, Labour’s policy is not to seek re-entry to the EU.
Rayner went on to say the UK was suffering because of Johnson: “Under this prime minister, the country is worse off. Prices for everyday goods are soaring out of control. Hard-earned savings will be hit, and the wages of working people won’t go as far.”
Serious solutions were needed, she said, adding: “Instead, we have this prime minister and his incompetent leadership.
“And every time we are faced by challenge, he denies there’s a problem. He tries to laugh it off. He looks for someone else to blame.
“Can I suggest to the prime minister: it’s not about brushing your hair, it’s about brushing up on your act.”