Boris Johnson clashed with Sir Keir Starmer at what he hinted might be his final Prime Minister’s Questions – the latest in a series of fiery exchanges with Labour leaders during his tenure at Number 10, from defending his record on partygate to Brexit.
Facing Sir Keir in April after the publication of Sue Gray’s report into partygate, Mr Johnson said his opponent was “in some kind of Doctor Who time warp”, adding that he had already explained how he “bitterly” regretted receiving a fixed-penalty notice for lockdown breaches.
Pressed on how his former press secretary Allegra Stratton had “laughed” about breaking the rules and subsequently resigned, alongside Sage member Neil Ferguson and former health secretary Matt Hancock, Mr Johnson said there could be “no clearer evidence of the intellectual bankruptcy of Labour”, accusing the Opposition of having no plans for energy, social care or to fix the economy.
In 2019, clashing with then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit, Mr Johnson called his opponent a “big girl’s blouse” and described him as a “chlorinated chicken”.
Mr Corbyn had asked the Prime Minister whether he was negotiating for Brexit or just trying to “run down the clock”.
During an exchange in which he was reprimanded by then Commons speaker John Bercow for naming Mr Corbyn as he addressed the chamber – which broke with Commons protocol – Mr Johnson said Labour economic policy was “shit or bust”.
He referred to the Opposition’s plans over Brexit as a “surrender Bill”, at a time when Labour was seeking to make a no-deal Brexit without MPs’ approval illegal, in a Bill put forward by MP Stephen Kinnock.
Battles over lockdown restrictions gave the Prime Minister plenty of ammunition against his political rivals.
In October 2020, as a second national lockdown was imposed, Sir Keir pressed Mr Johnson to go beyond his new three-tier alert level system in England and implement a “circuit break” immediately in a bid to “save lives, fix testing and protect the NHS”.
Mr Johnson hit out at Labour’s “opportunism” and accused Sir Keir of performing a “dramatic” U-turn after not opposing a regional approach earlier in the week.
A week later, Mr Johnson dismissed the idea of a circuit-break lockdown to stem the spread of the pandemic and accused Sir Keir of wanting to “turn the lights out” on the country.
Perhaps most notably, the fiery exchanges were not always confined to the chamber. In February 2021, following questions on vaccines in the Commons, the Prime Minister and Sir Keir continued their clash outside the chamber.
Sir Keir said Mr Johnson was talking “complete nonsense” after the Prime Minister accused the Labour leader of repeatedly calling for the UK to stay in the European Medicines Agency after Brexit, suggesting such a move would have hampered the country’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
The Opposition leader and Mr Johnson were seen walking out of the Commons together following the clash and continued their conversation standing just outside.
Sir Keir later acknowledged he had misheard Mr Johnson and thought he had been accused of wanting to join the European Union’s vaccines scheme.