Labour hit out after the prime minister targeted Keir Starmer’s background as a top lawyer, even as he sought to raise the concerns of bereaved relatives.
“I think it tells you everything you need to know about the prime minister’s flippant approach to this crisis and his style of leadership,” the Labour leader’s spokesman said.
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“That’s hardly the response of the party of compassionate Conservatism.”
The row came after Mr Johnson chose to respond with a pre-prepared joke to a call for a message to bereaved families of coronavirus victims, worried about official warnings of a winter resurgence.
He replied: “We will do absolutely everything in our power to prevent a second spike in this epidemic.”.
But Mr Johnson then added: “One day he says it’s safe to go back to schools, the next day he’s taking the line of unions; one day they’re supporting our economic programme, the next day they’re saying our stamp duty cut is an unacceptable bung; one day they say they accept the result of the Brexit referendum, the next day, today, they’ll tell their troops to do the exact opposite.
“He needs to make up his mind about which brief he’s going to take today because at the moment he’s got more briefs than Calvin Klein.”
During the clashes, the prime minister also appeared to concede that he had not read a government-commissioned report warning a second spike could claim 120,000 lives without firm action.
“The report was clear July and August must be a period of intense preparation, i.e. now. Can the prime minister make clear he intends to implement the recommended actions in this report in full and at speed?” Sir Keir asked.
Asked if he had read the advisory group’s study, Mr Johnson replied: “I’m of course aware of the report.”
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Speaking later, Sir Keir’s spokesperson added: “It is deeply concerning that the prime minister hasn’t even bothered to read it.”
And, stating he would be meeting bereaved relatives later on Wednesday, the spokesperson said: “We would advise the prime minister does the same.”
Labour backed the government on the extent of the mandatory wearing of face coverings, saying: “We’re not calling for compulsory wearing of masks in offices.”
And, on a new review of whether to hike capital gains tax, the spokesperson said the party would “look at any proposals” that came forward.
But the spokesperson said: “We’re not calling for tax rises, we’re calling for growth. It’s for the government to set out how it’s going to pay for the proposals it’s put forward.”