PMQs: Keir Starmer challenges Boris Johnson to explain why UK has highest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe

PUBLISHED: 12:57 06 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:11 06 May 2020

Sir Keir Starmer and prime minister Boris Johnson during a session of PMQs in the House of Commons; Photograph: Parliament TV.

Sir Keir Starmer and prime minister Boris Johnson during a session of PMQs in the House of Commons; Photograph: Parliament TV.

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Labour’s new leader Sir Keir Starmer has challenged Boris Johnson to explain why the UK now has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in Europe.

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It was the first appearance for the prime minister in the House of Commons since March 25 when the prime minister tested positive for coronavirus and was later hospitalised over the condition.

Sir Keir used his first clash with Johnson to demand answers on new figures which showed the UK’s death rate had overtaken Italy for the most deaths in Europe, a statistic that came days after Johnson claimed the UK’s response had been an “apparent success”.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Sir Keir said: “When the prime minister returned to work a week ago Monday he said that many people were looking at the apparent success of the government’s approach.

“But yesterday we learnt, tragically, that 29,427 in the UK have now lost their lives to this dreadful virus. That’s now the highest number in Europe. It’s the second highest in the world. That’s not success or apparent success.”

Staring at Johnson across the dispatch box, he asked: “So can the prime minister tell us how on earth did it come to this?”

Johnson replied: “Every death is a tragedy and he’s right to draw attention to the appalling statistics, not just in this country but across the world.”

He added: “At this stage I don’t think international comparisons and the data is yet there to draw all the conclusions that we want.”

Sir Keir challenged Johnson, saying his comments “did not hold water”. Holding up a copy of a slide of global covid-19 death counts shown at daily Downing Street press briefings, he said: “Mr speaker, the argument that international comparisons can’t really be made when the government has been using slides like this for weeks just does not hold water.

He added: “I’m afraid that many people are concluding that the answer to my question is that the UK was slow into lockdown, slow on testing, slow on tracing, and slow on the supply of protective equipment.”

Johnson earlier defended the government’s decisions, stressing they were taken to “save lives and to protect our NHS”.

“I believe there will of course be a time to look at what decisions we took and whether we could have taken different decisions,” the prime minister added, “but I have absolutely no doubt that what the people of this country want us to do now is to suppress the disease, keep suppressing the disease and to begin the work of getting our country’s economy back on its feet.”

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