Boris Johnson was accused of either dodging questions or giving “dodgy answers” as he came under fire for the Government’s Covid-19 contact tracing app.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer cut a frustrated figure as he clashed with Mr Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions over England’s readiness to ease lockdown restrictions.
The Prime Minister responded by urging Sir Keir to press Labour councils to encourage children to return to school when asked about the timescale for a working app to track people who have been in contact with someone with Covid-19.
Some £11.8 million was spent by the Government on developing its own NHSX app before it was ditched. It is now examining software created by Apple and Google to build one.
Speaking in the Commons, Sir Keir highlighted how two previous answers from the PM about a decrease in absolute child poverty and relative child poverty were judged “mostly false” by the office of the Children’s Commissioner for England.
He said another claim from the PM about fewer families living in poverty was also deemed “false”.
Sir Keir said of Mr Johnson: “He’s been found out. He either dodges the question or he gives dodgy answers.
“No more witnesses, I rest my case. Will the Prime Minister do the decent thing and correct the record in relation to child poverty?”
Mr Johnson replied: “I’m happy to point out to my learned friend that actually there are 100,000 fewer children in absolute poverty and 500,000 falling below the thresholds of low income and material deprivation.”
The PM defended his administration’s spending record before saying: “He still can’t make up his mind.
“Talking about child poverty – the single biggest determinant of a child’s success is whether or not he or she goes to school. He still won’t say whether children should go.”
Mr Johnson then accused the Labour leader of changing his mind over whether to back the Government’s approach to easing the lockdown.
Earlier in PMQs, Mr Johnson claimed Sir Keir has been “stunned by the success” of the NHS test and trace operation.
But Sir Keir warned the economy cannot be reopened without a successful track and trace system before pressing on the app, telling MPs: “The Prime Minister risks making the mistakes he made at the beginning of the pandemic, brushing aside challenge, dashing forward, not estimating properly the risks.”
He later said: “Up until last week, the Government maintained that the app was critical, another of their slides (at the daily briefing).
“But at the weekend (Health Secretary Matt Hancock) downplayed the app, saying it was only ever additional support. So which is it – critical or not?”
Mr Johnson responded: “I wonder whether (Sir Keir) can name a single country in the world that has a functional contact tracing app? Because there isn’t one.”
Sir Keir countered: “Germany – 12 million downloads. I checked that overnight.”
The Labour leader said other countries are ahead of the UK, asking: “When are we going to have a working app?”
Mr Johnson said Sir Keir was “completely wrong”, adding: “No country in the world has a working contact tracing app and I’ve always been clear, we’ve always been clear, that the app would be the icing on the cake.
“If we can get it to work it’ll be a fine thing but there isn’t one anywhere in the world so far.”
The PM praised the NHS Test and Trace operation before asking Sir Keir to confirm he “wants all children who can go back to school to go back to school this month”.
The Labour leader replied “yes” and accused the Government of a U-turn over its school plans.