The Spectator

Full text: Boris Johnson’s ‘People’s PMQs’ debut

Full text: Boris Johnson’s ‘People’s PMQs’ debut
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Good afternoon. I'm speaking to you live from my desk in Downing Street for the first-ever People's Question Time, People's PMQs, and at the moment I'm afraid MPs are all still off on holiday. But I can take questions unpasteurised, unmediated from you via this machine.

So I'm going to go straight away to Luther in Cheshire. And Luther says, 'I'd like to know how you intend to leave the EU on the 31st of October with no movement from the EU on their terms and still so much opposition in Parliament.' Luther, you've asked the crucial question and there's a terrible kind of collaboration, as it were, going on between people who think they can block Brexit in parliament and our European friends. And our European friends are not moving in their opposition to, uh, their willingness to compromise. They're not compromising at all on the withdrawal agreement, even though it's been thrown out three times. They're sticking with every letter, every comma of the withdrawal agreement, including the the backstop, because they still think that Brexit can be blocked in Parliament and so the awful thing is that the longer that goes on, the more likely it is, of course, that we will be forced to leave with a no-deal Brexit.

That's not what I want. It's not what we're aiming for. But we need our European friends to compromise. And the more they think that there's a chance that Brexit can be blocked in Parliament, the more adamant they are in sticking to their position. But Luther, I want you to know that I remain confident that we'll get that, we will come out of the European Union on October the 31st, because I think in the end, both our friends in other European capitals and I think MPs will see that it's vital to get on and to do it. And I'm going to go to Micky, who is a farmer in Scotland. And Micky wants to know what am I going to do to protect our union of nations and well Micky there's lots of things I think we should be doing. But one, as Minister for the Union that I think it's very important it is to stress the benefits that flow to us all from the Union.

And I was absolutely bowled over in Scotland recently to see investments flowing... The last two times I've been there, went up to the nuclear submarine base at Faslane and also, of course, to the shipbuilding yard at Govan. I saw thousands of jobs, high class, high skill, wonderful jobs in Scotland that are directly created as a result of investments from the whole of the UK. And therefore showing how Scotland in particular benefits from participation in the most successful political union of the last few centuries. And I think it's very important as Prime Minister and Minister for the Union that I took up those successes, whether it's in science and R&D and education, all the investments that flow to Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, England as part of the Union. That's one of the things we're going to be doing.

And Sam Dearden from Newport, South Wales asks, 'What lengths am I going to go to prevent parliament from blocking Brexit with this? Would this include scheduling an election after 31st October?' Well, Sam. I think the British public has had a lot of elections and electoral events. They had the election in 2015. They had the referendum in 2016. They had another election in 2017. I think what they want us to do is get on and deliver Brexit on October the 31st, I never tire of telling you, that is what we are going to do.

And Amy in Weaverham says, 'What would you do to restore the British people's faith in politics and politicians after the last three years of division chaos and broken promises?' I think that Amy that's really the thing that I give you the same kind of answer, that exact same answer. Amy, we're coming out of the European Union on October the 31st. I think that's what the British people voted for me. They feel very frustrated that three years after they gave that instruction and after the British parliament promised again and again to people that we would do it, that they feel very annoyed and frustrated that we haven't. So that's the first thing we're going to do.

And Shao says 'More and more people in rural communities are feeling isolated from the politics of London and Westminster. What efforts will you take to ensure your government represents and hears the voices of all British people across the country?' And I think that is a great point. Shao, because one of the things I want to do, you know, even before we've delivered Brexit is to do far more to unite our country and bring it together. And I do think that Brexit was at least partly about people in towns and regions of the UK feeling that they weren't being heard. And we want to do a lot more to revive local democracy with a program of devolution devolving powers to towns and communities around the UK, but also levelling up across the UK. I believe that talent and genius is uniformly distributed across the UK, but opportunity is unfairly distributed. And the three things you need to do to bring the country together are: improve education, invest in our schools, invest in further education in skills, invest in infrastructure, transport infrastructure and invest in technology. And I would single out what we need to do with rural communities in particular. We need to be investing in full-fibre broadband for everyone.

And Kyle in Stockbridge says, What are we going to do to, uh... Kyle asked me, 'Do I agree that mental health services are a cornerstone of modern Britain's health needs? And what will I do to protect and advance them?' Kyle, I think you are completely right. There's no doubt that and I've been doing a lot in the last few days about crime, trying to tackle crime. But so many of the problems of youth crime and youth violence and indeed crime of all kinds are associated with mental health problems. And I'm absolutely certain that what you need to do to help tackle mental health issues is for every aspect of the state that has a care for mental health patients of all kinds is they need only to get together through social services, housing, the police, the council, probation services, whatever, you need to have wraparound care for people with mental health problems. We need to escalate the issue. We need to be much less afraid as a society of talking about mental health problems, our own mental health problems. Talking as a society about the issues that we face. And that's the way we get it done and we beat it.

And Sarah from London, how long have I got by the way? Sarah from London says, 'What? He's going to be done to tackle knife crime?' And Sarah, you are so right. It is a scourge and it's a terrible thing, knife crime. And I think in a way, it goes in waves. We had a terrible outbreak about 10 or 11, 12 years ago. And when I first became Mayor of London and I remember that kids were dying, young kids were dying at a rate of about 30 a year in knife violence in London. And the way we gripped it was several things. We did all sorts of things to intervene with the kids. We had all sorts of...we sponsored mentoring schemes and youth opportunity, youth clubs, all that sort of thing.

But we also tried to help kids get apprenticeships and good jobs. But we also had a very tough law and order-driven approach and we had a lot of stop-and-search and we took about 11,000 knives off the streets of London with stop-and-search and serious youth violence came way, way down and the murder rate was more or less reduced by 50 per cent. So you need to do both things. And that's what we're doing. That's why we're putting another 20,000 police officers out on the street. That's why we're changing the laws on stop-and-search, to give our police a bit more confidence about what they're doing, make them feel that they have not just a legal backing to do stop-and-search, which is an emotionally challenging thing to ask a police officer to do, as well as obviously being difficult for the person who's being stopped-and-searched, given the backing to do it both legally and politically. And I know it's controversial and people will say, you know, um, that certain groups get picked on in by the police in terms of black and minority ethnic groups in particular, and they'll say it's unfair. I have to say, I think you do need to do it. It has to be part of the mix. And it's really, I think, the most loving and kindest thing you can do to a young person who is carrying a knife. And maybe endangering his life and the life.... unfortunately it's almost always a he, the lives of others is to take that knife off him. And that's why we're doing it.

And I've got one more question, I'm told and I'm going to go to Oliver, who says who's my, my favourite political hero... Obviously Winston Churchill. But I would mention Pericles of Athens who believed in all sorts of wonderful things. He certainly believed in great infrastructure projects. He believed in the importance of the many, not the few. But above all, Pericles will go down as one of the most powerful, articulators of the idea of democracy, which is that the people are ultimately in charge of their own destiny. And it's because the people took that decision to leave the European Union. They were going to come out on October the 31st whatever happens.

Anyway, I think that's all I've got time for today for this edition of People's PMQs. Thank you all very much.