Keir Starmer slammed Boris Johnson’s real-terms pay cut for NHS staff, accusing the Tory government of making nurses £841-per-year worse off.
At a fiery PMQs, the Labour leader took Johnson to task for “breaking promise after promise”, after the prime minister said a 1 per cent pay boost for health workers who fought on the frontline of the battle against Covid-19 was all he could afford.
With opposition MPs yelling “disgrace” at the under-fire prime minister, Sir Keir claimed the government’s “mask is slipping” amid the NHS pay row, as he pointed out that Downing Street had found money to hand Dominic Cummings a £45,000 pay rise – and was set to spend £2.6 million building a new media studio in Downing Street.
“They say charity starts at home but I think the prime minister’s taking it a bit too literally,” Starmer said.
He added: My mum was a nurse. My sister was a nurse. My wife works in the NHS. I know what it means to work for the NHS.
“When I clapped for carers I meant it. He clapped for carers then he shut the door in their face at the first opportunity.”
Pointing out that the NHS had been budgeted a 2.1 per cent pay rise, Starmer said: “It’s not just a pay cut, it’s a broken promise too.” He added: “It’s been budgeted for and now it’s been taken away.
“He could afford to give Dominic Cummings a 40 per cent pay rise. Now he’s asking NHS nurses to take a real terms pay cut. How on earth does he justify that?
“The mask really is slipping, and we can see what the Conservative Party now stands for: cutting pay for nurses, putting taxes up for families.
“He’s had the opportunity to change course, but he’s refused. So if he’s so determined to cut NHS pay, will he at least show some courage and put it to a vote in Parliament?”
Johnson replied: “The last time we put it to a vote, he (Starmer) voted against it. We’re increasing pay for nurses, we’re massively increasing our investment in the NHS.
“We’re steering a steady course, whereas he weaves and wobbles from one week to the next.”
Labour later pushed back on the prime minister’s false claim that they had previously voted against the document outlining the 2.1 per cent pay increase.
Sir Keir had said: “Two years ago he made a promise to the NHS, here in black and white, his document, it commits to a minimum pay rise of 2.1 per cent. It’s being budgeted for and now it’s being taken away.
“He shakes his head – his MPs voted for it. So why, after everything the NHS has done for us, is he now breaking promise after promise?”
Johnson replied: “He voted against the document in question to crown the absurdity of his point.”
Raising a point of order after PMQs, shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth accused Johnson of misleading MPs. As he rose to his feet, the prime minister hurriedly exited the chamber.
Ashworth said: “The prime minister twice from that despatch box said that the Labour opposition voted against the NHS Funding Bill and the 2.1 per cent increase for NHS staff – this is not the case.
“Indeed, in the debate, as Hansard will show, I was explicit that we would not be dividing the House.
“So can you, Mr Speaker, use your good office to get the prime minister to return to the House and correct the record?
“And do you agree, Mr Speaker, that if the prime minister wants to cut nurses’ pay he should have the courage of his convictions to bring a vote back to the House?”
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said: “It is certainly a point of clarification – that part has been achieved.”
Downing Street indicated that Johnson would not apologise or correct the record, but did not dispute that he was incorrect.
The prime minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton told reporters: “The key thing is that this was dealt with swiftly and the Speaker – who has enormous respect and authority in Parliament – regards it as a point of clarification and it has now been dealt with.”
Asked if Johnson had a problem with facts, Stratton said: “No, he doesn’t. The Speaker addressed this as a point of clarification and it has been dealt with today.”
The ministerial code states that it is of “paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity”.
Stratton said Johnson “absolutely agrees” with the ministerial code and “in this instance the system worked” because the Speaker had responded to Ashworth.