Boris Johnson said he would present the Government’s “Living With Covid” strategy next month, and expects to end the last domestic restrictions - including the legal duty for cases to self-isolate “a full month early”.
Speaking at the start of PMQs on Wednesday the Prime Minister said he would present the strategy when the Commons returns from its recess on 21 February.
Mr Johnson faced MPs in the Commons on Wednesday after carrying out a limited reshuffle which saw Mark Spencer moved from chief whip to Leader of the Commons, with the previous holder of that role, Jacob Rees-Mogg, becoming Minister for Brexit Opportunities.
What did the Prime Minister say about Covid restrictions?
Embattled Mr Johnson carried out the mini-reshuffle as he continued to resist calls to apologise for his controversial attack on Sir Keir Starmer over Jimmy Savile.
Speaking at the opening of PMQs Mr Johnson said: “It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with Covid.
“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early.”
What was said about energy bills?
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer focused on the rising cost of living and raised concerns over the Government’s policy to give all 28 million households in Britain a £200 up-front rebate on their energy bills from October.
This will be recouped by hiking bills by £40 per year over five years from 2023.
Chancellor Mr Sunak has also promised a £150 council tax rebate for homes in bands A to D.
Sir Keir described it as a “dodgy loan, not a proper plan”.
He told Mr Johnson to “stand up to this Chancellor” by telling him to support families “rather than loading them with debt” and take a look at the “bumper profits” of oil and gas giants.
But Mr Johnson said the Labour plan, which includes a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers, would “clobber” supplies but joked it was an “improvement” on nationalising the companies.
The Prime Minister added: “What he would be doing is hitting the energy companies at precisely the time when we need to encourage them go for more gas because we need to transition now to cleaner fuels.
“What this Government is providing is £9.1 billion worth of support, it’s more generous than anything Labour is offering.”
But Sir Keir accused Mr Johnson of “bluff and bluster”, adding in the Commons: “The reality is this – on top of the Tory tax rises, on top of the soaring prices, the loan shark Chancellor and his unwitting sidekick have now kicked up a buy-now, pay-later scheme.
“It leaves taxpayers in debt while oil and gas companies say they’ve got more money than they know what to do with.
“It’s the same old story with this Government: get in a mess, protect their mates and ask working people to pick up the bill.
What was said about the Sue Gray report?
Boris Johnson told MPs that “as soon as all the inquiries are concluded I will immediately publish in full whatever Sue Gray gives me”.
Raising Sue Gray’s report into parties in Downing Street during lockdown restrictions, Conservative Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) asked: “I’m only asking this question because I asked the Prime Minister last week and I didn’t get a straight answer.
“It’s important because it’s about those who make the law obeying the law.
“The Prime Minister wants to be judged on the facts and that’s right. So can I ask him to commit at the despatch box that upon conclusion of the Metropolitan Police investigation, will he ensure that Sue Gray’s final report is published immediately and in full?”
Mr Johnson replied: “With great respect to (him), I do believe I answered that… but I’ll repeat, for the benefit of the House, that as soon as all the inquiries are concluded I will immediately publish in full whatever Sue Gray gives me.”
What was said about the National Insurance hike?
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said nurses face a £275 “pay cut” due to the planned rise in national insurance, and called on the Prime Minister to scrap it.
Referring to staffing changes in Downing Street, Mr Blackford said to the Prime Minister: “Whilst he has been busy rearranging the deckchairs, in the real world people continue to be punished by the Tory cost of living crisis”.
He said political website Open Democracy found “as a direct result of the Chancellor’s national insurance hike nurses will on average take a £275-a-year pay cut in April”.
“That pay cut will hit at the very same moment as soaring energy bills,” adding the energy bill is one “they and the rest of the public simply can’t afford”.
“So rather than the Prime Minister and the Chancellor scrapping over the Tory leadership, will they do something useful and scrap the regressive hike in national insurance?”
The Prime Minister replied: “I think everybody can see how vital this is. We have to clear our Covid backlogs, we have six million people already on the waiting list, I’m afraid that will go up, and we need to be recruiting the staff now.”
And he describes increases in the number of nurses and starting salaries in addition to bursary help, saying “we value our nurses, we love our NHS, and we are paying for it”.
Mr Blackford asked are the “Prime Minister and his Chancellor seriously telling those nurses that their reward for seeing us through the pandemic is a £270 wage cut?”
Mr Blackford said nurses are the “very backbone of the National Health Service, the very people that he’s hitting with the pay cut in April”.
He added: “At the same time that those nurses were going into work every day to fight the pandemic, 16 different parties were happening in his Government. The public know what nurses sacrificed during the pandemic, and they know exactly what this rule-breaking Prime Minister and his Government were up to.”
The Prime Minister said he was telling the country and “fantastic” nurses that “we back them all the way”, adding “what they want is more nurses, that’s why there are record numbers in training, that’s why we have 11,000 more in the NHS now this year than there were last year.”
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