Boris Johnson 'devoted to levelling up across the entire country'

The Prime Minister has insisted he is “devoted to levelling up across the entire country” as he was questioned over the prioritisation of funds designed to help struggling areas.

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis asked Boris Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions today to justify why Rishi Sunak’s North Yorkshire constituency was placed in the top priority category for cash from the government’s Levelling Up Fund despite being considered as an affluent area.

He said: “If the Prime Minister is serious about levelling up the country, does he honestly think that favouring the Chancellor’s Richmondshire constituency over Barnsley for financial support is the best way to do it?”

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But Mr Johnson responded: “We are devoted to levelling up across the entire country and that goes for Barnsley as well as everywhere else.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Photo: PA

Lia Nici, Conservative MP for Grimsby, said: “It's clear to the people of Grimsby that it's this Government that is determined not to neglect the town like Labour predecessors.”

And she urged Mr Johnson to put efforts into raising skills and education.

Mr Johnson pointed to the Lifetime Skills Guarantee launched in September, where tens of thousands of adults will be able to benefit from nearly 400 free courses.

He said it would be “absolutely instrumental in helping in helping young people out beyond school age to retrain and get the jobs they need”.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer demanded MPs be allowed to vote on pay increases for NHS workers, as he accused Mr Johnson of “breaking promise after promise”.

The Labour leader warned nurses face a “real-terms cut” and said the Prime Minister was choosing to “shut the door in their face at the first opportunity”, having previously clapped for carers.

But Mr Johnson repeatedly claimed a pay increase would be delivered for NHS workers, defended his Government’s spending record and said he would see what the independent pay review body reports back.

The Government has proposed giving some NHS staff in England a one per cent pay rise, despite an expectation from health bosses that it would be 2.1 per cent.

Sir Keir said: “A one per cent rise versus 1.7 per cent inflation rise, that is a real-terms cut, and if the Prime Minister doesn’t understand that, we really are in trouble.

“They can afford to give Dominic Cummings a 40 per cent pay rise, and they can’t afford to reward the NHS properly.

“The mask really is slipping, and we can see what the Conservative Party now stands for: cutting pay for nurses, putting taxes up for families.

“He’s had the opportunity to change course, but he’s refused.

“So if he’s so determined to cut NHS pay, will he at least show some courage and put it to a vote in Parliament?”

Mr Johnson replied: “The last time we put it to a vote, he (Mr Starmer) voted against it.

“We’re increasing pay for nurses, we’re massively increasing our investment in the NHS.

“We’re steering a steady course, whereas he weaves and wobbles from one week to the next.”

Labour later pushed back on the Prime Minister’s claim that they had previously voted against the document outlining the 2.1 per cent pay increase.

Mr Johnson also hit back at Brussels over a claim by the European Council president that the UK imposed an “outright ban” on coronavirus vaccine exports.

The Prime Minister told MPs that the UK has not “blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine” as he sought to correct the suggestion by Charles Michel.

A senior EU diplomat was summoned to the Foreign Office earlier on Wednesday over the row, and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has written to Mr Michel seeking to correct the record.

In the Commons, Mr Johnson said: “The whole House can be proud of the UK’s vaccination programme, with over 22.5m people now having received their first dose across the UK.

“We can also be proud of the support the UK has given to the international Covid response, including the £548m we have donated to Covax.

“I therefore wish to correct the suggestion from the European Council president that the UK has blocked vaccine exports.

“Let me be clear: we have not blocked the export of a single Covid-19 vaccine or vaccine components.

“This pandemic has put us all on the same side in the battle for global health; we oppose vaccine nationalism in all its forms.”

Mr Michel accused Britain and the US of imposing bans on the movement of jabs in a newsletter on Tuesday.

He said he was “shocked” when he heard allegations of vaccine nationalism levelled at the EU, saying: “The facts do not lie.”