Prime Minister Boris Johnson and leader of the opposition Sir Keir Starmer clashed over Covid loan fraud in Parliament today.
During Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour Party leader Starmer questioned Johnson on business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s statement about fraud not being something people experience in their day-to-day lives.
Johnson replied by highlighting his government’s work on anti-fraud.
“Of course, this government and this country despises those who defraud people and that’s why we cracked down on fraudsters and we’ve strengthened our anti-fraud taskforce who are bringing forward an economic crime bill but we also attach huge importance to tackling neighbourhood crime and crime of violence and I’m very pleased those crimes are down by 17 per cent,” Johnson said.
However, Starmer went on the offensive on online fraud and cited a Manchester gang committing Covid loan fraud, the Chancellor writing of £4bn of losses and blocking the National Crime Agency from investigating fraudulent pandemic loans, as well as Lord Agnew’s resignation as anti-fraud minister over coronavirus fraud.
“The Prime Minister’s answers have a huge hole in it,” he said.
“We’ve had lockdowns for the last two years, two crimes people could commit were online fraud and throwing parties.
“As far as I can see the numbers for both of those have gone through the roof. But I was asking the Prime Minister about the 14,000 cases of fraud a day. Many older people are duped out of hard-earned savings and the business secretary casually suggests on TV, don’t worry it’s not real crime.
“There’s a crime gang in Manchester nicking cars and shipping them around the world, all financed by Covid loans from the taxpayer and what’s the Chancellor’s response, write of £4bn of losses and block an investigation by the National Crime Agency, his cabinet turning a blind eye to scammers.
“Is it any wonder that his anti-fraud minister realised no one in government seemed to care and threw in the towel?”
Johnson defended himself, saying his government has been “tackling crime across the board”.
“We’re tackling crime across the board and investing more in tacking fraud and also tackling the neighbourhood crime that is such psychological damage in this country, tackling knife crime, burglary and violence in the street with tougher sentences, which they voted against, and putting more police out on the street,” he said.
“The reason we can afford it is we have a strong economy, we’re coming back strongly from Covid and that’s thanks to the big calls this government got right.”
Starmer responded by reiterating Lord Agnew’s resignation and attacking the PM over this.
“His anti-fraud minister quit saying the failure of the government to tackle fraud was so egregious that he had to, and this is in his words, ‘smash some crockery to get things noticed’,” he said.
“Well, it seems the Prime Minister hasn’t noticed the broken plates or shattered glass around him. It’s almost as if he’s been completely distracted for weeks.”