BORIS Johnson appeared to ignore calls to scrap a hike in National Insurance contributions as he was grilled by MPs.

SNP leader Ian Blackford called for the Prime Minister to scrap the tax rather than “scrapping” with the Chancellor over the Tory leadership.

Nurses’ wages would be hit, on average, by an effective cut because of the increase, Blackford claimed.

The Prime Minister’s mini-reshuffle was slammed by the SNP leader, who called it “changing the deck chairs”, while people “continued to be punished by the cost of living crisis”.

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National Insurance contributions will rocket at the same time as energy costs are set to soar, Blackford claimed, and noted the “energy he [Johnson] can sum up to save his own skin” in reference to some shock sackings – including that of Jacob Rees-Mogg as Leader of the House.

Blackford asked are the “Prime Minister and his Chancellor seriously telling those nurses that their reward for seeing us through the pandemic is a £270 wage cut?”

He said nurses are the “very backbone of the National Health Service, the very people that he’s hitting with the pay cut in April”.

Blackford added: “At the same time that those nurses were going into work every day to fight the pandemic, 16 different parties were happening in his Government. The public know what nurses sacrificed during the pandemic, and they know exactly what this rule-breaking Prime Minister and his Government were up to.”

The Prime Minister would not be drawn on scrapping plans to increase National Insurance contributions, choosing instead to claim “record numbers” of nurses were currently in training across the UK.

Johnson said: “We back nurses all the way.

“What they want is more nurses. We have 11,000 more in the NHS this year than there were last year.

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“Those are fantastic investments in our country and society.”

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer branded the Chancellor a "loan shark" over his measures to mitigate the cost of living crisis.

The opposition leader denounced the Government’s energy bills announcement as a “dodgy loan, not a proper plan”.

He said: “Talking of scams, households are going to have to fork out an extra £19 billion on their energy bills. The Government is insulting people’s intelligence by pretending it’s giving them a discount, but it’s not, it’s a con. A buy now, pay later scheme, a dodgy loan, not a proper plan.

He added: “When his donors give him cash to fund his lifestyle and tell him he has to pay it all back later, are they giving him a loan or a discount?”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson replied: “Our plan to tackle the cost of living is faster, more efficient and more generous than anything that they have set out.

“We’ve lifted the Living Wage by record amounts, we’ve cut the effective tax for people on Universal Credit and we’re now setting out a fantastic plan to help people with the cost of energy, and it is more generous and more effective than anything Labour have set out.

“It’s £9.1 billion, huge sums that we’re using to help people across the country and the only reason we can afford it is because we have a strong economy, the fastest growing in the G7.”