Boris Johnson had a pretty easy ride at Prime Minister's Questions today, despite Keir Starmer raising two policy problems that the government is really struggling to stay on top of. The Labour leader asked his first three questions on the quarantine policy, pushing Johnson for much tougher rules, and then turned to the cladding scandal.
As we have repeatedly covered
on Coffee House, the latter is a huge consumer crisis that is leaving thousands of people trapped in homes they cannot sell or with bills for remedial works to remove dangerous cladding reaching into the tens of thousands of pounds.
Starmer channelled Jeremy Corbyn and quoted some of those affected. He did press the Prime Minister to the extent that Johnson said the government would be announcing a plan shortly to prevent leaseholders being hit with 'unaffordable' bills. But this promise isn't worth very much, as campaigners argue that leaseholders shouldn't have to foot any bills for the remedial works – and are worried
that the government will come up with a solution that either involves loans or allows developers to pass costs on through very large service charges. Starmer did not home in on this when he could have forced an admission from the Prime Minister that what the government is developing will still mean leaseholders will struggle to sell their homes because of the debt attached or will face bills for massive service charges – all to fix a problem none of them caused.
The Labour leader took care to praise the vaccination programme before he asked his questions about quarantine. This was presumably partly so that Johnson couldn't complain that Starmer didn't want to praise the heroic work of those involved in the vaccination taskforce. It also allowed Starmer to make the point that everything could be undermined by a weak policy on borders. Johnson still had one of his pre-prepared speeches ready for his last answer, and was cut off by the Speaker for veering wildly off topic.
The more difficult part of the session came when the DUP's Ian Paisley Jr told the Chamber that the people of Northern Ireland felt 'betrayed' by the Northern Ireland protocol. Johnson said he would not rule out invoking Article 16, which is an emergency provision in the protocol allowing either side to suspend operations when there are serious problems.
But what will ensure that today's PMQs has far more longevity than it deserved is the spat over whether Starmer had repeatedly called for the UK to stay in the European Medicines Agency. Mr Steerpike has more on that here