Labour leader Keir Starmer will miss his weekly face-off against Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions because he is still awaiting the results of coronavirus tests, it was revealed tonight.
The Opposition Leader, who went into self- isolation yesterday, was forced to pull out of the Wednesday lunchtime parliamentary showpiece because the test for a family member has taken more than 24 hours to be returned.
Angela Rayner will deputise for him at the dispatch box against Mr Johnson himself with a spokesman for the Labour leader saying: ‘Keir Starmer is still awaiting the test result for a member of his family.
‘He is therefore remaining in self-isolation and will not participate in Prime Minister’s Questions tomorrow.
‘Angela Rayner, deputy leader and shadow first secretary of state, will be taking his place. We have informed Number 10.’
Mr Starmer earlier today delivered a stinging attack on the government’s testing shambles from home.
Addressing the TUC conference via video link from his north London home, Sir Keir nsisted the only reason he had been able to be checked was that his wife Victoria works for the NHS, adding: ‘for thousands up and down the country it is a very different story’.
Sir Keir turned his fire on Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock (pictured centre and left at the Cabinet meeting this morning)
The intervention comes as a nationwide testing fiasco leaves doctors and nurses unable to work because they can’t get checked for the illness.
Sir Keir Starmer, who is awaiting the results of a test after a family member developed symptoms, told the TUC conference by video link that he had only been screened because his wife works for the NHS.
And turning his fire on Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock, he said: ‘It is not the British people that are to blame for these mistakes. It is not the civil service…
‘It is the government that is holding Britain back.’
Health service staff are having to leave the frontline to self-isolate because they or family members cannot book a test.
NHS Providers says that if the shortage is not addressed soon it will wreak havoc on hospitals as virus cases continue to escalate.
In another humiliating blow to the testing system, headteachers have warned that schools — which were closed for months because of the pandemic — will ‘grind to a halt’ if teachers can’t get tested quickly.
One in Preston said this morning that he already has two staff self-isolating at home and struggling to get tested, along with 10 children.
Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock have both suggested that the system is under pressure because people are seeking tests when they don’t have symptoms.
Meanwhile, health officials have blamed the crisis – which experts fear will rumble on for weeks – on a staffing shortage in laboratories.
Desperate bosses have now admitted they may have to hire students to plug gaps in the rota in the face of sky-high demand.
But government sources say the actual cause of the crisis is a ‘secret in Whitehall’, while one leading scientist said labs appear to be fully staffed and working normally and that the Department of Health may be wrong about its maximum capacity.
Backlog in the system means government ministers are reportedly considering restricting coronavirus tests and refusing ‘frivolous’ requests from people who don’t need to be swabbed.
Sir Keir announced he was going into self-isolation hours after taking a phone-in in the LBC radio studios yesterday.
He lives with wife Victoria and their son and daughter, thought to be aged 10 and eight respectively, in north London.
Boris Johnson tweeted his best wishes and said he had called Sir Keir.
In his speech, Sir Keir also issued a fresh appeal to ministers to bring forward new measures to protect jobs when the coronavirus furlough scheme comes to an end.
He warned that communities across the country will face the ‘scarring effect of mass unemployment’ if the Government fails to act.
He offered to work with ministers to develop a ‘genuine national plan’ to protect jobs when the scheme closes at the end of October.
The state has supported around 9.6 million jobs through the furlough scheme since the country went lockdown in March.
While Labour has said it accepts the furlough scheme cannot continue indefinitely, Sir Keir said that with ‘a bit of imagination’ the Government could continue to help those most at risk of losing their jobs.
He urged ministers to target sectors under the greatest pressure – including aviation and retail, as well as businesses in areas hit by local lockdowns.
Sir Keir also called for an expansion of part-time working – rewarding employers who give people hours rather than cut jobs – and the provision of training and support for those unable to return to work full-time.
‘At this moment of national crisis we should take inspiration from our past,’ he said.
‘Be willing to put party differences aside and work together in the interest of the country.
‘Imagine how powerful it would be if we could form a genuine national plan to protect jobs, create new ones and investing in skills and training?
‘I’m making an open offer to the Prime Minister – work with us to keep millions of people in work.’
A HM Treasury spokesman said: ‘We already have a national plan to not only protect jobs, but to create new ones – and we are implementing it right now.
‘Thousands of young people will take their first steps into work through our £2 billion Kickstart scheme this autumn and our up to £9 billion Job Retention Bonus will help companies bring those on furlough back to work. ‘