Jeremy Corbyn has castigated Boris Johnson for not having visited any communities affected by floods, accusing him in parliament of being “a part-time prime minister”.
During an often noisy prime minister’s questions, the Labour leader picked up on criticism of Johnson, some from Conservatives, for spending all of last week’s parliamentary recess out of view at Chevening, a government grace-and-favour mansion usually used by the foreign secretary.
In response, Johnson – who was greeted from the Labour benches with a shout of: “There he is!” – insisted the government had been working “flat out” to respond to the flooding.
Later at PMQs, Johnson commented publicly for the first time about the row over the views of Andrew Sabisky, a now-departed No 10 adviser who advocated eugenics policies and argued that intelligence was linked to race, telling a Scottish National party MP that he did not share these views.
Corbyn used all his allotted questions to ask about Johnson’s disappearance from public view last week, beginning: “Does the prime minister agree with the Conservative leader of Derbyshire county council that he’s turned his back on the people affected by the floods?”
Johnson replied: “Since the flooding began, this government has been working flat out, night and day, to ensure that the people in this country get the support that they need.”
Corbyn, who visited flood-affected areas of Wales, said Johnson had been “sulking in his grace-and-favour mansion”, adding: “You can’t give local authorities the clear message that you support them and then turn your back on them. Not my words – a Conservative council leader said that.”
Insisting there had been a “constant stream of ministerial activity”, Johnson talked up funding for new flood defences, and said 200,000 households had been protected. “I’m very proud of the response the government has mounted over the last few days,” he said.
But Corbyn queried why Johnson had visited affected areas amid floods during December’s election, asking: “Is he just pretending to care when he doesn’t really care at all as there’s no votes on the line at this moment?”
Asking why the prime minister had not called a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency committee, Corbyn said Johnson “often goes awol”. The Labour leader said: “He was on a private island when the Iranian general was assassinated, and last week he was in a mansion in Kent.”
“How can the country trust a part-time prime minister?”
In response, Johnson mocked Corbyn over his call for a Cobra meeting, saying: “Cobra is a reference to Cabinet office briefing room A. It is not the only room in which meetings can take place.” He said Labour were mainly “engaging themselves in narcissistic debate”.
Johnson told Corbyn: “The hottest topic of debate in the Labour party is what job should the right honourable gentleman have in the shadow cabinet after the leadership election.”
Later in PMQs, the SNP’s Martin Docherty-Hughes cited the example of his brother, who had cerebral palsy, to ask about the views of Sabisky. Amid the row over the adviser, No 10 had been vague about distancing Johnson from his views on race and eugenics.
But Johnson was vehement, saying: “Let’s be absolutely clear that I certainly don’t share those views, and nor are they the views of anybody in this government. And that individual no longer works for the government.”