A brutal encounter at the Liaison Committee this afternoon. Boris was grilled for two hours by a gang of aggressive MPs, (many of them Tories), who were drooling and panting for him to quit. But it wasn’t until the final moments that the session caught fire.
Darren Jones took the first chunk out of the PM.
‘How’s your week going?’ asked the Labour MP mildly.
‘Terrific, like many other weeks.’
‘Did Michael Gove come in and tell you to resign today?’
‘I’m here to talk about what the government is doing.’
Boris brushed off a similar attack from the SNP’s Angus MacNeil.
‘The game’s up. Will you still be prime minister tomorrow?’
‘Of course, Mr MacNeil,’ schmoozed Boris. ‘And rather than giving a running commentary I’m here to talk about the government programme.’
The East London MP Meg Hillier snarled that she’d lost all confidence in the PM. Blimey. What a blow for poor Boris. Hackney wants him out!
Steven Crabbe was the first Tory to punch below the belt.
‘Do you not feel the ability of government is deteriorating as we speak?’
Boris: When I came into parliament there were 140 Conservative members and now there are 365, or thereabouts, so we have a wealth of talent, Steven.
Then came William Wragg, an unknown backbencher, whose habit of bashing Boris has earned him a level of notoriety that scarcely reflects any personal merit or expertise. Wragg has a whispery voice and an overeducated demeanour. Seems very pleased with himself too. He looks like a town planner with a grudge. He asked an impenetrable question about Her Majesty’s constitutional right to refuse a PM’s request to dissolve parliament. What did that mean? We found out later.
Chris Bryant burst into the debate like an angry maths teacher demanding free teabags for the staff-room. He’d armed himself with a series of gossipy quips made by Boris about Chris Pincher, the MP accused of drunkenly groping young men.
Bryant: Did you say, ‘all the sex-pests are supporting me?’
Boris: People attribute all sorts of things to me. I don’t remember saying it.
Bryant: That sounds like a yes. Did you call Pincher ‘handsy’?
Boris: Not a word I use.
Bryant: What about ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature?’
Boris was outraged. Or pretended to be. He accused Bryant of scurrilous muck-raking and of attempting to trivialise a serious matter.
Bryant erupted. ‘The allegation is that YOU trivialised this issue – and you’ve not even remembered it. You appointed someone you believed to be a sex-pest.’
Too much rage. Brant would make a lousy barrister. He fumed that the Pincher issue was about the Prime Minister’s personal morality. And about his inability to learn a lesson.
‘You’re not going to change. We’ll be doing this again and again!!’
‘Coming back to the Liaison Committee?’ said Boris affably. ‘Yes and I hope very much to be invited.’
Committee chairman, Sir Bernard Jenkin, joined the lynch mob. But very nicely. His voice is as smooth as a double Baileys.
‘In the end,’ he suggested to Boris, ‘we are all dispensable.’
‘That is true,’ came the reply. ‘All flesh is grass.’
He asked about Boris’s retirement plans if Tory MPs declare a loss of confidence in his leadership. Boris swatted this aside but Sir Bernard pressed him on the issue.
‘If you have lost the confidence of your MPs – you will not seek a dissolution? And you will stand aside and allow a leadership election?’
This was the point that Wragg had been wrangling about. Boris’s enemies fear that he may call a snap election and scupper the plotters by appealing to the electorate for a fresh mandate.
‘I’m not going to step down,’ said Boris. ‘And the last thing this country needs is an election.’
That was not the assurance that Sir Bernard wanted. The irate headmaster had lost patience with his gifted but wayward prefect.
‘I’m going to ask you once more: if you have lost your MPs’ confidence will you seek to dissolve parliament?’
Boris ruled it out. He said the earliest date for an election would be two years from now. In 2024.
That closed the session. But they all think he’s a rotten fibber anyway. So why place any faith in his most recent promise?
Things are moving fast but it seems that the Tories have pressed the self-destruct button. The anti-Brexit alliance is about to seize the coming decade.