PMQs: Boris Johnson stumps Keir Starmer with train strike jibe – 'Hasn't even got the gumption to speak out!'

The Prime Minister addressed the House of Commons today in the backdrop of industrial action across the UK's railway network

Published Last updated

Mr Johnson faced off with Sir Keir while the country is gripped by its worst rail strike for decades.

Sir Keir began by mocking the Prime Minister over Nadeem Ahmed, the Conservative Party's choice of candidate in the Wakefield by-election.

He said: “The Conservative candidate for Wakefield, he is standing even though his own colleagues think he is so useless they held a vote of no confidence in him.

“Does the Prime Minister hold any personal interest in seeing if the public will vote for a Tory that even his own side don’t think is up to it?”

Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer in PMQs
Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer in PMQs

But Mr Johnson deflected and brought up the issue of this week's rail strikes, firing back that Sir Keir hasn't got the "gumption" to speak out against them.

He said: “I have absolutely no doubt that the people of this country and the people of Wakefield, and the people of Tiverton and Honiton would much rather vote for a solid Conservative Government than for a Labour Party, their enablers and acolytes in the Liberal Democrats, the karma chameleons of British politics.”

The Prime Minister added that Sir Keir “hasn’t even got the gumption to speak out against the rail strikes”.

Sir Keir responded by criticising Mr Johnson for not sitting down with union leaders to find a resolution to the industrial action.

He said: “The Prime Minister of this country and his Transport Secretary haven’t attended a single meeting, held a conversation or lifted a finger to stop these strikes.

“But I did note that on Monday they did find time to go to a lavish ball where the Prime Minister sold a meeting with himself for £120,000… If there’s money coming his way, he’s there.

“So rather than blame everyone else why doesn’t he do his job, get round the table and get the trains running?”

Boris Johnson in the Chamber
Boris Johnson in the Chamber
Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons
Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons

Mr Johnson replied: “We are making sure that we do everything we can to prevent these strikes. He knows it is up to the railway companies to negotiate, that is their job.

"We’ve spent £16billion looking after the railways throughout the pandemic, that’s cost every household £600.

He added: “We know why he won’t condemn the strikes, we know why even now he hasn’t got the gumption to call out his MPs for going out to support the pickets. The reason his authority is on the line in this matter is that they take £10million… that’s the fee the learned gentleman opposite is receiving for the case he is failing to make.”

Throughout proceedings he persisted with this line of attack, accusing Labour of "literally holding hands with Arthur Scargill".

There were roars from the Tory benches as Sir Keir said “now we have got the biggest rail strikes in 30 years”.

Sir Keir asked: “If he is genuine about preventing strikes, will the Prime Minister tell this House how many meetings he or his Transport Secretary have had with rail workers this week to actually stop a strike?”

The Prime Minister replied: “This is the Government that loves the railways, that invests in the railways, £96billion we are putting into the integrated railway plan.”

Mr Johnson also claimed that 25 Labour MPs out on the picket line were “defying instruction” from Sir Keir, and suggested Labour was backing strikers not “strivers”.

It comes ahead of the long-anticipated Tiverton and Honiton and Wakefield by-elections tomorrow.

The Tories have a battle on their hands to hold on to both seats, as the Lib Dems close the gap in Tiverton and Honiton.

And the situation is delicately poised in the Red Wall seat of Wakefield, with Labour looking to retake the constituency.

The key issue appears to be Partygate in Tiverton and Honiton, while the cost-of-living crisis is taking its toll on the Tories in Wakefield.