Today marks the 40th anniversary of the bombings in Hyde Park and Regent’s Park. Tomorrow sees the 50th anniversary of Bloody Friday. Such terror by the Provisional IRA was barbaric and shameful, bringing untold grief to countless families. Our thoughts are with all those who lost loved ones during the troubles. We as a Government remain determined to help build a better shared future for all the people of Northern Ireland.
I spoke to the chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council last night and this morning about the heroic work of firefighters in recent days. I know the whole House will want to thank them and all our frontline services who have been working hard to keep us safe. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be making an oral statement later.
I know colleagues will wish to join me in wishing England’s Lionesses well in their quarter-final match against Spain in Brighton this evening. I also know the House will want to congratulate Jake Wightman, who produced a stunning run to take gold in the 1,500 metres at the world championships in Oregon.
As you rightly say, Mr Speaker, last week I told the House that last week’s PMQs was possibly my last. This week probably—certainly—will be my last PMQs from this Dispatch Box, or any other Dispatch Box. This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House I will have further such meetings later today.
Summer recess gives all parliamentarians an opportunity to reflect on our ability to uphold the seven principles of public life: selflessness, openness, objectivity, honesty, integrity, accountability and leadership. Those are fine principles, but public trust in politicians is at an all-time low. Will the Prime Minister be using the next few weeks to personally consider why that could be? As the unedifying fight for his job continues, if those who are vying to replace him were to draw on his wise counsel—and why wouldn’t they?—what advice would he give to ensure that the people we serve receive far better than they have from this Government?
I am afraid I did not quite catch the last part of the hon. Lady’s question, but I will be using the next few weeks to do what I think the people of this country would expect: to drive forward the agenda on which we were elected in 2019 and on which I think the Labour party particularly fears the Conservative party, and that is the agenda of uniting and levelling up, and making sure that we invest in places that for decades were betrayed by Labour and left behind. That is what the Conservatives are going to do, and that is why we are going to win again.
I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent question. The accession of both countries will be good for them and make all our allies safer, and I think it will make the whole Euro-Atlantic security area stronger. I am proud of the role the UK has played in that accession.
I start by saying to the Prime Minister that I know that the relationship between a Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition is never easy, and this one has proved no exception to the rule, but I take this opportunity to wish him, his wife and his family the best for the future.
I put on record our gratitude to the fire and rescue services for all their courageous work yesterday in extreme temperatures. All our thoughts are with those affected by the fires, particularly those who have lost their homes. I join the Prime Minister in his comments about the bombing in Hyde Park and the other IRA bombings.
I also join the Prime Minister in his comments about the Lionesses. The coverage starts at 7.30 tonight on BBC One, and I am sure the whole country will be roaring them on. For anyone who does not fancy football, “EastEnders” is on, so if they would rather watch outrageous characters taking lumps out of themselves, they have a choice: Albert Square or the Tory leadership debates on catch-up. On that topic, why does the Prime Minister think those vying to replace him decided to pull out of the Sky News debate last night?
I am not following this thing particularly closely, but my impression is that there has been quite a lot of debate already, and I think the public have ample opportunity to view the talent, any one of which—as I have said before—would, like some household detergent, wipe the floor with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Today happens to be just about the anniversary of the exit from lockdown last year, and do you remember what he said? He said—[Interruption.] No, I am going to remind him. He said it was “reckless”. It was because we were able to take that decision, supported by every single one of those Conservative candidates, opposed by him, that we had the fastest economic growth in the G7 and we are now able to help families up and down the country. If we had listened to him, it would not have been possible, and I do not think they will be listening to him either.
Well, I am impressed the Prime Minister managed to get through that with a straight face, actually. I think the truth is this: they organised a TV debate because they thought it would be a great chance for the public to hear from the candidates first hand, then disaster struck because the public actually heard from the candidates first hand.
But I am interested in what the Prime Minister makes of the battle for his job, so let me start with a simple one. Does he agree with his former Chancellor that plans put forward by the other candidates are nothing more than the “fantasy economics of unfunded” spending “promises”?
Well, Labour know all about fantasy economics, because they have already committed to £94 billion of extra tax and spending, which every household in this country would have to pay for to the tune of about £2,100. It is thanks to the former Chancellor’s management of the economy—thanks to this Government’s management of the economy—that we had growth in May of 0.5%. We have more people in paid employment than at any time in the history of this country. I am proud to be leaving office right now with unemployment at or near a 50-year low. When they left office, it was at 8%. That is the difference between them and us.
Every Labour pledge made under my leadership is fully costed. Those vying to replace him have racked up £330 billion of unfunded spending commitments.
But I do note that the Prime Minister did not agree with his former Chancellor, so what about his Foreign Secretary? She was withering about the Government’s economic record. She said:
“If Rishi has got this great plan for growth, why haven’t we seen it in his last two and a half years at the Treasury?”
That is a fair question, isn’t it, Prime Minister?
I think that everybody would agree that what we saw in the last two and a half years was because of the pandemic, with the biggest fall in output for 300 years, which this Government dealt with and coped with magnificently by distributing vaccines faster than any other European Government—faster than any other major economy—which would not have been possible if we had listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. That is why we have the fiscal firepower that is necessary to help families up and down the country, making tax cuts for virtually everybody paying national insurance contributions. There is a crucial philosophical difference between Labour and the Conservatives: under Labour, families on low incomes get most of their income from benefits; under us, they get most of it from earnings, because we believe in jobs, jobs, jobs. That is the difference.
Inflation is up again this morning and millions are struggling with the cost of living crisis, and the Prime Minister has decided to come down from his gold-wallpapered bunker for one last time to tell us that everything is fine. I am going to miss the delusion.
But his Foreign Secretary did not stop there. She also said that the former Chancellor’s 15 tax rises are leading the country into recession—and the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) was even more scathing. She said that
“our public services are in a desperate state…we cannot continue with what we’ve been doing because that clearly isn’t working.”
Has the Prime Minister told her who has been running our public services for the last 12 years?
Again, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is doing this—it is completely satirical. This is the Government who are investing £650 billion in infrastructure, skills and technology. He talks about public services; what really matters to people in this country right now is getting their appointments and their operations, fixing the covid backlogs—that is what we are doing—and fixing the ambulances. That is what he should be talking about. That is why we voted through and passed the £39 billion health and care levy, which Labour opposed. Every time something needs to be done, Labour Members try to oppose it. He is a great pointless human bollard. That is what he is.
I appreciate that Conservative Members may not want to hear what their future leader thinks of their record in government, but I think the country needs to know. If only it were satirical, Prime Minister; it is what the candidates think of the record. Among the mudslinging, there was one very important point, because the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) claimed that she warned the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Rishi Sunak) that he was handing taxpayer money directly to fraudsters in covid loans. She says that he dismissed her worries and that as a result, he “cost taxpayers £17 billion”. Does the Prime Minister think she is telling the truth?
This is one of the last blasts from Captain Hindsight, at least to me. They were the party, I remember, that was so desperate for us to be hiring their friends—they wanted a football agent and a theatrical costumier to supply personal protective equipment. Do you remember, Mr Speaker? We had to get that stuff at record speed. We produced £408 billion-worth of support for families and for businesses up and down the country. The only reason we were able to do it at such speed was that we managed the economy in a sensible and moderate way. Every time Labour has left office, unemployment has been higher. The Opposition are economically illiterate, and they would wreck the economy.
I think the message coming out of this leadership contest is pretty clear: they got us into this mess, and they have no idea how to get us out of it. The Foreign Secretary says we cannot go on with our current economic policy. The right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt) bemoaned:
“What we’ve been doing is not good enough”,
and the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Kemi Badenoch) probably put it best when she simply asked:
“Why should the public trust us? We haven’t exactly covered ourselves in glory”.
Those are their words—their future leader’s words. They have trashed every part of their record in government, from dental care and ambulance response times to having the highest taxes in 70 years. What message does it send when the candidates to be Prime Minister cannot find a single decent thing to say about him, about each other or their record in government?
What does it say about the right hon. and learned Gentleman that no one can name a single policy, after three years, of the Opposition apart from putting up taxes? He is one of those pointless plastic bollards you find around a deserted roadworks on a motorway. We got Brexit done; he voted against it 48 times. We got this country fast out of covid, in spite of everything, when he would have kept us in lockdown. We are fixing social care, when the Opposition have no plan and no ideas of their own. We are now bringing forward measures, in the face of strikes, to outlaw wildcat strikes.
I can tell the House why the Leader of the Opposition does that funny wooden flapping gesture—it is because he has the union barons pulling his strings from beneath. That is the truth—£100 million.
We have restored our democracy and our independence. We have got this country through covid. I am proud to say that when it comes to tackling climate change or sticking up for Ukraine, we have led the world on the international stage. I want to thank my friends and colleagues on these Benches for everything they have done.
Mr Speaker, may I join you in wishing all the best, at his impending retirement, to—James Mackay and Beth, who are here. He has been a friend to many of us across the House, and we congratulate him on his service. I also join the Prime Minister in congratulating Jake Wightman on his success overnight in winning the 1,500 metres at the world athletics championships. What a fantastic achievement.
This week has seen historic records set across the United Kingdom, but let us look at the Prime Minister’s record-breaking efforts in office. His Tory Brexit slashed £31 billion from the economy—the biggest fall in living standards since the 1970s. People’s pay in real terms is falling at the fastest rate on record, and we have the worst economic growth forecast in the G20 outside Russia, and the highest inflation in 40 years.
Personally, I would like to thank the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Minister for the Union, for driving support for independence to new heights. Westminster is holding Scotland back. The economy is failing, and this Prime Minister has driven us to the brink of a recession. Has not the Prime Minister’s legacy of catastrophic mismanagement paved the way for the end of the Union?
That is not what I observe. The right hon. Gentleman talks about records; I point to the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, the lowest unemployment for at or near 50 years as I have said, the lowest youth unemployment, and the fastest growth in the G7 last year, in spite of everything. As for the Scottish nationalists’ record, look at where they are. I am afraid to say that Scottish school standards are not what they should be, because of the failure of the SNP. It is failing people who are tragically addicted to drugs in Scotland, and the people of Scotland are facing another £900 million in tax because of the mismanagement of the SNP.
The Prime Minister might believe that nonsense, but the people of Scotland do not. They know the reality—that our NHS is the best-performing in the United Kingdom, and education standards under the SNP are moving in the right direction. [Interruption.] That is a good look, to the people of Scotland—the disdain that the Tories show for our country.
I hope that the Prime Minister will, with all his newly gained spare time, reflect on his conduct in office, and I genuinely hope that he finds some peace of mind. The fact is that as a well as being a record-breaker, the Prime Minister is a rule-breaker—illegally shutting down Parliament, partying through the pandemic, handing out PPE contracts to cronies, and unilaterally changing the ministerial code. Let us not forget that the Prime Minister is still under investigation because he cannot be trusted to tell the truth. Shameful, disgraceful, and a complete waste of Scotland’s time—that is how the people of Scotland will remember this Prime Minister. Should not the Prime Minister and his Government have had their last day a long time ago? Quite simply, Downing Street is no place for a law-breaker.
On the personal abuse stuff, I think the right hon. Gentleman is talking a load of tosh, but when he has retired to his croft—which may be all too soon—I hope that he will reflect on his long-running campaign to break up the greatest country in the world. I hope that he will reflect on the pointlessness of what he is trying to do, and think instead about the priorities of the people of Scotland, which are all the issues that he thought were trivial: education, crime, and the burden of taxation that the SNP is unnecessarily placing on the people of Scotland.
As the Prime Minister leaves office, I am sure that the whole House is looking forward to him completing his book on Shakespeare. We wait to read what he really thinks about tragic figures brought down by their vaulting ambition, or scheming politicians who conspire to bring down a tyrannical leader. The candidates now plotting to take his place all profess that they will bring a fresh start—a clean break from his Government—but does the Prime Minister not agree that a fresh start and a clean break would require a new mandate from the British people, and that before they strut and fret their hour upon the stage, there should be a general election?
Polonius—that’s who the right hon. Gentleman is; he needs more matter with less art. The only thing we need to know is that if there were to be a general election, the Liberal Democrats would rightly get thrashed, because that would be the moment when the public looked with horror at what the Liberal Democrats’ policies really are and all those rural voters would discover the massive green taxes that they would like to apply. The only risk is that there could be some kind of crackpot coalition between those guys on the Labour Benches, the Lib Dems and the Scottish nationalists to put that into effect. That is what we must prevent.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his work to tackle regional inequality in this country through his levelling-up agenda. As he rightly reflects with pride this summer on the work of both himself and his Government, will he urge all candidates in the leadership election and all colleagues in the House further to drive forward the levelling-up agenda to tackle inequality wherever it is found in the United Kingdom?
My right hon. Friend rightly paid tribute to our hard-working firefighters, who have been dealing with the fires over the past few days in this unprecedented weather. Will he take action to make sure that more fires can be prevented, by getting rid of disposable barbecues and Chinese sky lanterns?
Actually, we increased the living wage across the whole of the UK by £1,000, we made sure that people on universal credit got their tax bills cut by £1,000, and over the last couple of weeks we have cut national insurance contributions by an average of £330. It was because of the Union that we were able to support families up and down the country, in Scotland, with the furlough and other payments, to the tune of £408 billion.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for his commitment to Scotland and the entire United Kingdom over his years in Downing Street? I also thank him and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for improving and increasing the visibility and involvement of the UK Government in Scotland over the past three years. Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that whoever takes his job, and whatever comes next, the United Kingdom will always be stronger together than it ever would be apart?
Actually, I think more people have got compensation. I renew my apologies to the Windrush generation for what they have suffered, but we have greatly increased the compensation available. We have paid out, I think, more than £51 million. We are working with voluntary groups to ensure that people get what they are entitled to. I may say that Labour has never apologised for its own part in the Windrush scandal.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for all the work he has done for Scunthorpe, but I give particular thanks to him for the work that he has done for steel. He has shown his understanding both of the challenges that steel faces and of its importance to this nation. He has kept every promise he has made to me on steel, and I thank him very much for his work on that. Does he agree with me that the future of steel is always safest under a Conservative Government?
I completely disagree with that. The whole objective of the Northern Ireland (Protocol) Bill that we have passed is to support the balance and symmetry of the Belfast/Good Friday arrangements. I was very pleased that the Bill advanced to the House of Lords with no amendments.
In recalling the situation that the Prime Minister inherited in July 2019, of a Parliament with a majority determined to frustrate the result of the 2016 referendum, led by a Speaker who was just slightly partial—the seemingly impossible situation he found—does my right hon. Friend understand that he has the gratitude of my constituents, who can identify the wood from the trees, and of myself, for his leadership over the last three years?
I think the people of Scotland do not, frankly, want to be talking about constitutional issues and another referendum when the issues before the country—the cost of living, the educational issues we discussed, drugs and crime—are far more pressing.
The Prime Minister spoke earlier about the atrocities carried out by the IRA. For decades, many men and women had the courage to put on the Queen’s uniform and uphold law and order in Northern Ireland on Operation Banner. One of the Prime Minister’s undoubted achievements is that he brought in the Northern Ireland (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, so that those people who served their country can finally sleep safely in their beds. Thank you for that, Prime Minister, if I may be so presumptuous on their behalf. You kept your word to them.
I thank my old friend for everything he did to campaign on that issue for so long. I am glad that this Government were indeed able to fulfil their promise not just to veterans, but to their families as well. I renew my thanks to the security services, who do so much to keep us safe, and to all those who put on the Queen’s uniform.
The UK had the fastest growth in the G7 last year and we will return to the top of the table soon because we came out of covid fastest. We had 0.5% growth in May. Do not forget that the people of Scotland, like the people of the whole of the UK, are supported by the massive fiscal firepower of the UK Treasury, and that is a great advantage.
May I place on the record my thanks particularly to the firefighters of Cornwall, who were also extremely busy and courageous yesterday?
I thank the Prime Minister for his support and enthusiasm for Cornwall and the people of Cornwall over the last few years, and not least for the hosting of the G7 last year. I also thank him for the investment of £132 million from the shared prosperity fund, from which, with the national average at £17 per head, Cornwall receives £233 per head? Does my right hon. Friend agree that his enthusiasm for levelling up every part of the UK needs to carry on in the future?
This is the country that secured furlough and that delivered the vaccine across the whole of the UK, while the SNP gets on with overtaxing to the tune of £900 million—that is how much they are overtaxing in Scotland. And we had a referendum in 2014.
I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the importance of the seafood processing industry to the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area. However, there is one cloud on the horizon: the recently imposed 35% tariff on white fish, which is causing industry leaders considerable concern even though they recognise the importance of maintaining sanctions on Russia. Will my right hon. Friend arrange meetings with me and my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) with the appropriate Ministers, so we can discuss measures to mitigate the impact on the industry?
I will make sure that my hon. Friend gets a meeting as soon as possible with the relevant Minister, but it is very important that we encourage our great fish and chip shops in Grimsby, Cleethorpes and elsewhere to make sure they are not just using Russian fish for their fish and chips.
I thank the Prime Minister for his support for the new city of Southend. Our brilliant hospital turns 90 next Tuesday, but our heroic NHS staff are hampered by the size of the A&E department. Conservative-led capital funding of £8.4 million to expand the A&E department was promised five years ago but has not quite arrived. Will my right hon. Friend encourage the new Health Secretary to give us the best birthday present ever and, in the words of Cuba Gooding Jr, “Show me the money”?
There are 3.7 million people who face 7% interest rates from September, as well as the inflation on heating and eating and rent, when mortgages are at 2%. Will the Prime Minister help those people in need, or will he help the City people—his friends—who are making all this money out of the cost of living crisis?
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what students want. They want to have a system where they do not pay back more than they borrow, and that is what we are putting in. They also want to make sure that they have a jobs market that will take them on with high-wage, high-skill jobs. The difference between Labour Members and us is that we get people into high-wage, high-skill jobs. They are prepared to let them languish on the dole, and that is the difference.
On behalf of the House, may I thank the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] On behalf of the House, may I thank the Prime Minister for his three-year record of service? On behalf of some of the most vulnerable people in the country, can I thank him for his insistence on rolling out the AstraZeneca jab, which has saved thousands of lives around the world? On behalf of the 17.4 million people who voted Brexit, may I thank him for restoring people’s faith in democracy? On behalf of northern towns, may I thank him for his commitment to levelling up? And most of all, on behalf of the people of Ukraine, may I thank him for holding high the torch of freedom and ensuring that that country is not a vassal state? For true grit and determination, keep going and thank you.
I thank my right hon. Friend, and I want to use the last few seconds to give some words of advice to my successor, whoever he or she may be.
No. 1: stay close to the Americans; stick up for the Ukrainians; stick up for freedom and democracy everywhere. Cut taxes and deregulate wherever you can to make this the greatest place to live and invest, which it is. I love the Treasury, but remember that if we had always listened to the Treasury, we would not have built the M25 or the channel tunnel. Focus on the road ahead, but always remember to check the rear-view mirror. And remember, above all, it is not Twitter that counts; it is the people that sent us here.
And yes, the last few years have been the greatest privilege of my life. It is true that I helped to get the biggest Tory majority for 40 years and a huge realignment in UK politics. We have transformed our democracy and restored our national independence, as my right hon. Friend says. We have helped—I have helped—to get this country through a pandemic and helped save another country from barbarism. Frankly, that is enough to be going on with. Mission largely accomplished—for now.
I want to thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to thank all the wonderful staff of the House of Commons. I want to thank all my friends and colleagues. I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). I want to thank everybody here. And hasta la vista, baby. [Applause.]