Boris Johnson has been slammed after claiming that Matt Hancock’s resignation for breaking social distancing rules was a “Westminster bubble” issue.

Speaking during PMQs, the Prime Minister batted away criticism from Starmer that he was slow to act on Hancock’s indiscretions, and said that people cared more that the government was focussing on other issues like the vaccine rollout.

It came as a response to Starmer suggesting Johnson should have fired Hancock on Friday, as soon as images of him kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo in May – when social distancing measures were in place – were published in The Sun.

Talking about the sacrifices the country has made during the pandemic, Starmer referred to 27-year-old Ollie Bibby, a man who died with leukemia in May, unable to see his friends or family due to the coronavirus restrictions in place at the time. He said his family had followed the rules even though it meant not seeing their son and that Hancock’s actions had caused them considerable distress.

In response, Johnson said: “We all share the grief and the pain of Ollie and his family and millions of people up and down the country who have endured the privations that this country has been through in order to get the coronavirus pandemic under control and that is why we had a change of health secretary the day after the story appeared.

“And that is why actually what we are doing as a government, instead of focusing on stuff going on within the Westminster bubble, we are focusing on rolling out vaccines at a rate that will make sure that people like Ollie and his family do not have to suffer in the future.”

Starmer replied: “I can hardly think that the Prime Minister thinks that it’s appropriate in response to a question about Ollie, to suggest that this is in his words ‘the Westminster bubble’.

“The Westminster bubble in answer to that question Prime Minister?” he said.

And reacting to his choice of words, politicians and journalists were similarly aghast.

Journalist Paul Johnson said it was “appalling”:

Pippa Crerar deemed it “tone deaf”:

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner, who Johnson tried to use as a political point during PMQs, added: “Boris Johnson is a disgrace. He has no shame.”

And her colleagues Chris Elmore and Richard Burgon called it “completely inappropriate” and “disgusting”.

Mr Bibby’s mother Penny Bibby, of South Benfleet in Essex, also told the BBC that Johnson’s response made her feel “not important”.

“Boris Johnson just dismissed the question, he avoided answering it entirely, which made us feel like we’re not important,” she told the broadcaster.

“He keeps going on about vaccinations, but there are no guarantees that families can be together on their death bed, even if everyone is vaccinated. There are no signs that anything is going to change.”

She added: “I have lost confidence in this government now. There needs to be a plan, this can’t go on. How many more families need to be kept apart while loved ones are dying?”

The Prime Minister’s press secretary defended Johnson’s comments.

She told reporters: “I think the Prime Minister answered the substantive point regarding Ollie and his family, he said that we all share the grief and pain of those who’ve lost loved ones and of course his thoughts are with them. He absolutely was not referring to this issue.

“The point he was making was that Starmer was focusing on the former health secretary when he left government five days ago and there are obviously significant challenges facing the country around jobs, education, Covid recovery.”

Last week, Johnson - famous for putting his foot in it - provoked similar outrage for dismissing concerns about the low number of sexual assault convictions in Britain as “jabber” during PMQs.

It looks like he hasn’t learnt his lesson.

Please log in or register to upvote this article
The Conversation (0)