Boris Johnson's final PMQs was a let down

20 July 2022

10:39 PM

20 July 2022

10:39 PM

Boris Johnson’s farewell Prime Minister’s Questions was rather like his premiership: full of the unexpected, rather chaotic and a bit of a let down. Westminster has already visibly moved on from Johnson, even though he remains in office until early September, and so Keir Starmer devoted his questions to asking Johnson about the candidates to be his successor.

Johnson claimed that he wasn’t following the contest particularly closely, but that any one of the candidates would, ‘like some household detergent, wipe the floor with him’. Starmer, however, was enjoying the many insults that have been thrown between the camps in this race to be leader, and quoted a number of them back at the Prime Minister. His theme was that no-one in the party was now proud of what it stood for or what it had done in government:

‘They’ve trashed every part of their record in government, from dental care to ambulance waiting times to the highest taxes in 70 years. What message does it send when the candidates to be prime minister can’t find a single decent thing to say about him, about each other, or about their record in government?’

Starmer used each question to deal with a different candidate. He asked whether Johnson agreed with Rishi Sunak that the plans of his opponents were ‘fantasy economics’; or whether Liz Truss was right that Sunak had no plan for growth. Then he pointed out that Penny Mordaunt had said ‘our public services are in a desperate state, we can’t continue with what we’ve been doing because it clearly isn’t working’, and asked: ‘Who’s been running our public services for the last 12 years?’

He also quoted Kemi Badenoch’s claim that she had warned Sunak that the covid loan scheme was at risk of fraudulent activity, and that he had ignored her. There was plenty to be going on, which will underline to the Conservatives the risks of having so many arguments in public.

Johnson ignored most of these questions about the people who are the future of the party, and tried instead to underline what he thought was his legacy in terms of getting the calls right on the pandemic, standing by Ukraine and the legacy of the last Labour government. He stuck to his ‘Captain Hindsight’ moniker for Starmer, also calling him a ‘pointless, plastic bollard’. The Labour leader’s memorable line was that Johnson had ‘decided to come down from his gold wallpapered bunker for one last time’.

Tory MPs were in strong attendance, and looked relaxed as they watched the man they’d tipped out of office say his farewell answers. For months they have grown steadily more miserable to the point of remaining motionless with horror during some of the worst PMQs. It was, then, quite striking to note that the most depressed-looking members of the chamber now are those sitting on the SNP benches behind Ian Blackford, who is still battling his way through his own internal party scandal and who once again asked two rather poor questions.

The session went on rather longer than usual. It culminated with a question from Sir Edward Leigh, a Johnson supporter, who channelled Churchill’s anaphora in an unintentionally amusing manner to list the Prime Minister’s achievements and thank him ‘on behalf’ of the many people he had helped. Johnson replied that he would use his last few seconds to give some advice to ‘my successor, whoever he or she may be’. That was to ‘stay close to the Americans, stick up for the Ukrainians, stick up for freedom, for democracy everywhere, cut taxes and deregulate whenever you can’.

He then had a strange non sequitur which underlined how much he hopes that the next leader is not Rishi Sunak, turning to criticise the Treasury and claiming that ‘if you always listen to the Treasury, you wouldn’t have built the M25 or the Channel Tunnel’.

His achievements, he said, were getting the biggest Tory majority for 40 years; using Brexit to have ‘transformed our democracy and restored our national independence’; taken the country through the pandemic; and ‘saved another country from barbarism’. That last point on Ukraine feels a little premature, but Johnson said that seemed to be enough to be going on with.

‘Mission largely accomplished, for now’, he said, slightly threateningly, before finishing on ‘hasta la vista, baby’. Tory MPs rose into a standing ovation for the man they were calling on to quit from the same benches two weeks ago. And then they went off to vote for the person who’ll replace him in what Johnson at least regards as unfinished business. He might as well have said another Arnie quote: ‘I’ll be back.’

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