ENTERTAINMENT

HENRY DEEDES sees the Prime Minister standing in the House of Commons before a barbecue evening


Boris Johnson has not appeared so fidgety since he showed up from intensive care in April.

He was sitting in a committee room at Portcullis House, shoulders hunched, eyes cleared of enthusiasm, and he looked as if he was steeling himself to get through Ibsen. In Norwegian.

It was actually worse than that.

The Prime Minister was faced with a two-hour barbecue by the Commons Liaison Committee, where 37 of Parliament's leading boasters and blowhards vied for his blood.

He was sitting in a committee room at Portcullis House, shoulders hunched, eyes cleared of enthusiasm, and he looked like he was steeling himself to get through Ibsen

Boris said he was looking forward to these meetings. A naked fib. I swear his nose grew an inch or two

Boris said he was looking forward to these meetings. A naked fib. I swear his nose grew an inch or two

No wonder PMs of all kinds fear these sessions more than an appointment with the dentist.

Apart from Boris, only the Chairman of the Committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin, was present yesterday. Everyone else contributed from afar.

Sir Bernard opened with the hope that they would see the Prime Minister again soon. "I look forward to such meetings," trumpeted Boris. A naked fib. I swear his nose grew an inch or two.

Jeremy Hunt was up first. Such a cat character. You are never quite sure whether he is a friend or an enemy. Actually, he gave Boris a pretty easy time, which probably wasn't surprising. Mr. Hunt longs for a return to the cabinet like a lost puppy.

He mentioned a new strain of the virus that had been detected in Brazil. Not another one! Boris said the government is taking "steps" to keep cases out of the UK. This usually means not doing much at all. Mr Hunt had some suggestions on how the government could improve the NHS staff. "We have never been very good at training doctors and nurses," he mused. An amazing shot from someone who was Minister of Health for six years.

The Prime Minister responded to questions about a new strain of Covid in Brazil by saying the government was taking "steps" to keep cases out of the UK

The Prime Minister responded to questions about a new strain of Covid in Brazil by saying the government was taking "steps" to keep cases out of the UK

Some heated questions followed from Clive Betts (Lab, Sheffield South East) about the vaccine launch.

I admit that I missed some posts from Betts as my attention was diverted by a large Lego model of Parliament that he was creating in the background. I have often wondered what MEPs did with all that free time. About 30 minutes after the session began, Sir Bernard became irritable. He asked for shorter questions, shorter answers.

If the prime minister couldn't be committed, he would have to suffer longer on the ground. Boris turned pale for a moment.

With the arrival of the sparkling Livewire Caroline Nokes (Con, Romsey & Southampton N), the process got a much-needed jolt. She asked Boris why he had appointed so few women lords. Boris reacted as if the thought had hardly occurred to him. He mumbled something about the fact that there are now more female MP private secretaries than there are men. Sir Bernard said he was very much in favor of more female MPs. "It's very important to me," he remarked, addicted to the wolf.

Sir Bernard's patience was tested again when Yvette Cooper (Lab, Pontefract) flickered on the screens.

She verbally abused the prime minister about the lack of Covid checks at airports. Boris bowed his head. A riot police ducked for cover.

Boris countered by suggesting that Marcus Rashford (see picture) could hold the government accountable better than Labor

Boris countered by suggesting that Marcus Rashford (pictured) could hold the government accountable better than Labor

Sir Bernard had a problem restricting Yvette. Big chance. She continued to carp. Sir Bernard groaned. "We're way back now …"

Hilary Benn (Lab, Leeds C), Chair of the Brexit Committee, appeared. Possibly his last of these meetings for the time being as his committee is rumored for the strike.

He asked if it was true that the EU had offered British musicians visa-free tours to the EU, but the government had refused the opportunity. "No," answered Boris. Pffff. Hilary's face emptied slowly like a pierced beach ball.

As the session was dragging on, Sir Bernard asked the Prime Minister to stay a little longer. "Of course!" Replied Boris. Sir Bernard then pushed his luck by suggesting that the Prime Minister attend the committee in February. "Now hold your horses!" Boris screamed and held up his arms. "That could be a little premature." Judging by yesterday's mood, you will be lucky enough to see him again before autumn. Earlier, when the Prime Minister asked, Sir Keir Starmer berated the Prime Minister for stricter lockdown restrictions.

He started off well enough, asking short, shabby questions, then relaxing back into the usual self-centered waffle. Boris briefly annoyed him by suggesting that footballer Marcus Rashford, who became a free school lunch activist, would hold the government more accountable than the opposition.

Sir Keir's head moved like a buoy on the trail of a boat. Like many who have seldom put on the colorful cloak of life's failure, he finds it difficult to process insults.

It was the quietest PMQ I have ever seen. Hardly a handful of MPs showed up. Most of them wore masks. The old place was about as atmospheric as a provincial train station.

In fact, the Sky News bigwigs were so overwhelmed they ordered the broadcast to be canceled and went to Holyrood to see what Nicola Sturgeon had to say for herself. When snubs go, that's as bad as it gets.

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