Keir Starmer has used Boris Johnson’s final outing at prime minister’s questions to taunt him about the way the candidates to succeed him as Conservative leader have “trashed every part of their record in government” while fighting each other.
In a generally low-key last set of Commons exchanges between the pair, Starmer again turned his focus on the remaining hopefuls – Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt – repeatedly quoting their criticisms of Johnson’s record in No 10.
Tory MPs will vote later on Wednesday for which two will go forward to a ballot of party members.
“I think the message coming out of this leadership contest is pretty clear: they’ve got us into this mess and they’ve got no idea how to get us out of it,” the Labour leader told Johnson, citing condemnatory quotes on tax, public services and growth.
“They have trashed every part of their record in government, from dental care and ambulance response times to the highest taxes in 70 years. What message does it send when the candidates to be prime minister can’t find a single decent thing to say about him, about each other, or their record in government?”
Johnson replied with attacks on Starmer – “What does it say about him that no one can name a single policy after three years of Labour opposition, apart from putting up taxes?” – and with his by now traditional reference to the rollout of Covid vaccines and his Brexit deal.
The final PMQs before the summer recess is likely to be the last time Johnson addresses the Commons as prime minister, and Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, began the session with a plea for a “respectful manner”, something immediately ignored by many MPs.
Starmer mocked Johnson about the often bitter and personal exchanges in the Tory leadership contest, likening it to EastEnders and noting the fact that Sunak and Truss had pulled out of a third scheduled TV debate, causing it to be cancelled.
“They organised the TV debates because they thought it would be a great chance for the public to hear from the candidates first-hand,” Starmer said. “Then, disaster struck: the public actually heard from the candidates first-hand.”
In subsequent questions, Starmer quoted Truss, the foreign secretary, asking Sunak why as chancellor he had overseen such anaemic economic growth, and Sunak’s jibe about the “fantasy economics of unfunded spending promises” from his rivals.
Johnson said he was “not following this thing particularly closely”, before insisting his record on the economy was exemplary.
Starmer, citing the 40-year record rate of inflation, at 9.4%, replied: “He has decided to come down from his gold-wallpapered bunker one last time to tell us that everything’s fine. I am going to miss the delusion.”
As some Tory MPs tried to shout him down, Starmer said: “I appreciate they may not want to hear what their future leader thinks of their record in government. But I think the country needs to know.”
Johnson, who ended by thanking his fellow Tory MPs, said that Starmer sought only to block things. “Every time something needs to be done, they try to oppose it. He’s a great, pointless human bollard,” he said.
The outgoing prime minister ended the noisy session with a short speech reflecting on his own record and giving tips to his successor, including, “cut taxes and deregulate wherever you can” and “focus on the road ahead but always remember to check the rear-view mirror”.
He added: “I love the Treasury, but remember that if we’d always listened to the Treasury we wouldn’t have built the M25 or the Channel tunnel.”
Johnson’s press secretary subsequently said he had not been making a dig at Sunak but making a “broader point” about big infrastructure projects.
Hailing his own record, including standing up for Ukraine and taking Britain out of the EU, Johnson said it was “mission largely accomplished”, before signing off with Arnold Schzwarzeneger’s catchphrase from the 1991 film Terminator 2: “Hasta la vista, baby.”
Conservative MPs, having ejected Johnson from his post less than a fortnight ago, rose to give him a standing ovation as he left the chamber. Opposition MPs did not join in the applause, and nor did Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May.