Is Boris a Russian agent? That bizarre question occupied most of PMQs where Dominic Raab deputised for the PM while he travels abroad. The issue was raised by Angela Rayner, standing in for Keir Starmer.
She said Boris’s friend, Evgeny Lebedev, had been granted a peerage despite warnings from the security services. ‘What she suggests is nonsense,’ said Raab. She brought up a 2020 meeting between Lebedev, ‘the son of a KGB officer’, and Boris in London. ‘Details of that meeting have never been released,’ she said, as if this were proof of a massive cover-up. Oddly, she then listed the details that she claimed had been suppressed. ‘Champagne and caviar’ were on the menu, she revealed.
How did she know? Wasn’t it all hushed up? Or was she fibbing to smear the PM? That’s a bit naughty. But Speaker Hoyle took no action. He was busy scanning the backbenches for hecklers to pick fights with. Hoyle still hasn’t spotted that Tories MPs like to exploit his pedantic control freakery to disrupt PMQs and to throw unwary questioners off their rhythm. He focused on a particularly mutinous Tory.
‘If you want an argument,’ said Hoyle, invoking his right to eject rebels, ‘we can argue outside – when you’re there.’ It sounded like an offer to fight an MP in the car park. Not very classy from the Speaker.
Raab took the attack to Rayner by recalling her support for Jeremy Corbyn who had opposed Britain’s membership of Nato. Hoyle sprang up again, bristling like a self-righteous cactus, and gave Raab orders to answer the question differently. ‘You can’t keep going back 12 years as a defence mechanism,’ he said. ‘Try and stick to the agenda without talking about history.’
A false objection. Raab was talking about Corbyn’s leadership which ended less than two years ago. And Hoyle is over-reaching himself if he seeks to censor MPs as they speak in the Commons. That’s how dictators run their parliaments. Is he trying to turn himself into a Marxist despot? Chairman Lin Tse Hoyle.
Rayner completed her exposure of Boris as a foreign stooge by accusing him of ‘cavorting with Russian oligarchs in their luxury villas.’ Raab replied by listing the results of British sanctions against Putin. Assets of $45 billion frozen. The rouble in free-fall. And Russia’s stock market at an all-time low.
Labour’s Justin Manners joined the plot to expose Boris as a traitor. In 2018, when serving as foreign secretary, Boris met a former KGB agent overseas and their illicit pow-wow took place without any pen-pushers present to note down the details. And Boris’s diplomatic security team had been given the afternoon off too. Sounds a bit fishy. Then again, what evidence of bribes or sweetheart deals has emerged? Meeting unsavoury foreign magnates is what diplomats do. Raab swatted the question away. ‘Total nonsense.’
One last heave from Labour’s Matt Western. He mentioned Boris’s fondness for playing tennis with a foreign billionaire whose ‘backhanders’ are of special interest to him. And he repeated the fact that Boris’s chum, Evgeny Lebedev, is the son of ‘a former KGB agent’.
Labour is fascinated with the hereditary principle even though their policies often seek to abolish it. And it’s strange to hear them drooling over the ornamental trappings of criminality. ‘Backhanders… billionaires… luxury villas… caviar and champagne.’
They sound like minor villains who want to join the real gangsters but aren’t hard enough. It was a great outing for Raab. At ease, well-briefed and unflappable. He seems a far stronger candidate to succeed Boris than the squeaky-clean Rishi Sunak or the attention-hungry Liz Truss. Today’s ultimate winner was Boris who dominated the session from first to last. And he wasn’t even there.