Keir Starmer has accused Boris Johnson of trying to fool the public with “nonsense” about a booming economy, as an often bad-tempered prime minister’s questions saw the pair square up over stagnant growth and tax rises.
In an extended Star Wars-referencing section, Starmer said Johnson was trying to “perform Jedi mind tricks on the country” by insisting the economy was buoyant, also mocking the PM by saying his backbenchers compared him to Jeremy Corbyn.
In response, Johnson repeatedly sought to change the subject, accusing the Labour leader of supporting planned rail strikes next week, and in a reference to opposition doubts over the Rwanda deportation policy, saying they were “on the side of the people-traffickers”.
Starmer focused all his questions on the economy, saying Johnson appeared “totally deluded” in insisting it was in good shape, given predictions the UK would face slower growth next year than any other major developed nation.
“Week after week he stands there and spouts the same nonsense – the economy is booming, everything is going swimmingly, the people should be grateful,” Starmer said. “But while he’s telling people that we’ve never had it so good, millions of working people and businesses know the reality.”
Starmer mocked Johnson in comparing him to a Star Wars villain: “As for his boasting about the economy, he thinks he can perform Jedi mind tricks on the country. ‘These aren’t the droids you’re looking for. No rules were broken. The economy is booming.’ The problem is, the force just isn’t with him any more. He thinks he’s Obi-Wan Kenobi. The truth is he’s Jabba the Hutt.”
In a section notable in showing how far Starmer has sought to move Labour away from the period under his predecessor, he used a section referencing malcontented Tory MPs to say some had compared Johnson to Corbyn.
“They’re making a lot of noise now, but I’ve got a long list here of what his MPs really think of him,” Starmer said, reading out quotes including “dragging everyone down”, “authority is destroyed” and “can’t win back trust” before pointedly asking Conservative backbenchers to raise their hands if they had said it.
Starmer added: “My personal favourite is this – this is a document circulated by his backbench in which they call him, ‘the Conservative Corbyn’. Prime minister, I don’t think that was intended as a compliment.”
On the economy, Johnson referenced rising payroll employment and argued the reason the UK’s growth was about to slow was because it had emerged from Covid earlier than comparable economies.
Twice he asked Starmer to condemn the rail strikes, once earning a reprimand from the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle. Starmer replied: “He’s in government. He could do something to stop the strikes. But he hasn’t lifted a finger. I don’t want the strikes to go ahead but he does. He wants the country to grind to a halt so he can feed off the division.”
Johnson ended by noting that Starmer had not raised the government’s failure to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda after legal challenges, saying: “He hasn’t mentioned this, but they’re on the side of the people-traffickers.”