BORIS Johnson has faced demands to make another U-turn and extend the furlough scheme beyond October to prevent Margaret Thatcher-style unemployment numbers.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer insisted the Prime Minister must help sectors of the economy which “desperately” need the furlough scheme as they cannot return to normal during the Covid-19 pandemic.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford added Johnson has already made eight U-turns this year, and a ninth must follow to protect jobs.

But the Prime Minister insisted “indefinite furlough” is not the answer to help the economy through the pandemic and defended the Government’s policies after Labour’s Kate Osborne accused him of talking “waffle” in response to appeals for a further extension.

Speaking in the Commons, Blackford said: “Yesterday the Prime Minister told his Cabinet, ‘I am no great nautical expert but sometimes it is necessary to tack here and there in response to the facts as they change’.

“It was surprisingly honest from the Prime Minister to admit his Government is all at sea, a UK Government now defined by eight U-turns in eight months. But if the Prime Minister is true to his word, then surely he must see sense and change tack for a ninth time.

“With the clock ticking for struggling businesses and workers, will the Prime Minister commit today to extend the Job Retention Scheme beyond October? Or is his government making the political choice to accept levels of unemployment last seen under Thatcher in the early 1980s?”

Johnson responded: “Members opposite of all parties seem to want to extend the furlough scheme which has already cost this country £40 billion ... supported 11 million people, but after all keeps them in suspended animation and prevents them from going to work.

“What we want to do is get people back to work and that’s why I hope he [Blackford] will instead support our Kickstarter scheme to get young people into jobs and support them in those jobs. How much better is that than languishing out of work?”

Starmer earlier said: “The jobs of millions of people are at risk. The longer he delays, the more they’re at risk. So will he act, finally get this decision right and commit to extend the furlough for those sectors and those workers that desperately need it?”

Johnson later told Osborne: “There will always be those who argue for an infinite extension of the furlough scheme and who want to keep people off work, unemployed, being paid very substantial sums for a very long time. I don’t think that’s the right thing.

“I think the best way forward for our country is to get people as far as we possibly can back into work.”

Johnson highlighted other schemes to support the economy, adding: “We will continue to put our arms round the entire people to keep them going throughout the crisis, but indefinite furlough is just not the answer.”

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has warned Conservative MPs angry at his handling of the coronavirus pandemic that “it’s about to get tougher”, as Rishi Sunak told them there will not be “a horror show of tax rises with no end in sight”.

Johnson and his Chancellor sought to placate the new intake of Tories yesterday amid disquiet over a series of government U-turns and concerns that future high taxes could be among the unpopular choices needed for the recovery. Both warned there will have to be difficult actions in the short term after a period of unprecedented spending but said their party would be able to overcome them.

Johnson acknowledged “it’s been tough” on the MPs, many of whom entered Parliament in the last election by seizing former Labour strongholds and are said to be “jittery” after a string of U-turns which includes the exams fiasco.

Sunak warned the MPs that the Government cannot “simply borrow our way out of any hole”, with his plan to rescue the nation’s finances unclear.

He said: “We will need to do some difficult things, but I promise you, if we trust one another we will be able to overcome the short-term challenges.”