Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Wednesday the 4th of September 2019 saw the return of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs). Boris Johnson faced questions from across the House – including two from MPs who were, just a night previously, booted from the Conservative Party for rebelling against his government. He barely answered them directly and seemed to stick to a small number of responses which left him appearing as if he had no clue as to what he was doing.
PMQs began with Johnson paying respects to PC Andrew Harper, who had died over the summer on duty. After this poignant moment, Johnson was allowed very little room to manoeuvre. Despite numerous questions from Jeremy Corbyn about what his negotiating strategy is, the Prime Minister failed to go beyond saying that they ‘don’t negotiate in public‘ and that he aims to ‘get a deal.’ Various MPs pointed out that, according to everyone but Johnson himself, the negotiations have gone nowhere. This is despite Johnson’s claims that they are making great progress. Johnson constantly called the bill to be debated later on Wednesday a ‘surrender bill‘ (despite also claiming that the EU are ‘our friends in Brussels‘, and last time I checked, surrendering isn’t something a nation does to friends). Corbyn’s response to being accused by Boris Johnson of undermining negotiations was to ask ‘How am I undermining negotiations if there are no negotiations taking place?‘. He also stated that the government had ‘No mandate, no morals and no majority.’ Following a question regarding Operation Yellowhammer that the government appears to be sweeping under the carpet, Johnson claimed that the UK’s friends are in Paris, Berlin and the White House, whereas Corbyn believes they sit in the Kremlin and in Tehran.
Various other questions followed, covering topics such as policy promises regarding the police, education and the NHS, a ten-years-on report on the Autism Act, as well as plenty of questions about the potential effects of a no-deal Brexit, which Johnson largely dismissed as being overstated by ‘Project Fear‘.
Towards the end of PMQs – as MPs and myself were clearly getting increasingly bored of Johnson’s flustering and his avoidance of actually answering a question, Speaker Bercow welcomed the visiting Lebanese parliamentarians in the galleries.
It was the last three questions of PMQs from Wednesday the 4th of September which have insofar gained the most media attention.
MPs applaud, as Labour’s Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi tells Boris Johnson to apologise for “derogatory and racist remarks” comparing Muslim women who wear a hijab to “bank robbers and letterboxes”#PMQs updates: https://t.co/utgDYwGajI pic.twitter.com/CDMQRGJGL8
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) September 4, 2019
Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the first MP to wear a turban in the House of Commons, made a passionate mini-speech about the horrific rise in hate crimes seen recently. He asked the Prime Minister to apologise for his remarks in which he called Muslim women ‘letterboxes’, and asked when there would be an investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. Notably, the Prime Minister and his Chancellor promised to hold one on national television. In response, Johnson claimed that the article in question was a liberal defence of wearing religious wear in public – which, for the record, is a load of twaddle. If he had been defending Muslim women, he would not have so openly insulted them. Johnson proceeded that he has Muslim and Sikh ancestors. Further to this, he defended himself by claiming that the government has the most diverse cabinet in UK history, and asked how the Labour Party can accuse him of racism when it is infected with a ‘virus of antisemitism’. The support of the House was much more clear for the statements made by Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi.
The penultimate question was from Margot James, one of the 21 MPs kicked out of the Conservative Party on Tuesday night. She quoted Margaret Thatcher, with ‘Advisors advise, minister decide’ and asked Boris Johnson if he agreed with that, especially with regards to Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor. Johnson ignored the remarks, stating that he was committed to taking the country forward. Finally, Jo Swinson stated that there was no acceptable context for the Prime Minister’s ‘letterboxes’ remarks and that he should be more careful with his words, given the position from which he says them. She then asked about a specific case in her constituency, to which Johnson said she should refer to the Home Secretary.
At the end of a calamitous display, Prime Minister Johnson attempted to scurry away – to the cries of ‘cowardly custard’ from the Labour front bench – before he was reminded that the Chancellor’s Spending Review was due to start straight away and that he was meant to be present for it.