A Prime Minister’s appearance in front of the Commons Liaison Committee – comprising select committee chairs – is customarily described as his or her bi-annual ‘grilling’.
Not yesterday it wasn’t. Boris Johnson suffered no more than a light poaching. Gently coddled at best.
For an hour and a half, he sat before Parliament’s foremost collection of puffed up, self-important windbags answering questions on everything from Partygate to the cost of fertiliser.
And for the first time at one of these sessions, Mr Johnson actually sounded professional.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson answered questions at a parliamentary Liaison Committee hearing in the House of Commons in London today
Partygate, Ukraine and high energy costs were all topics Boris Johnsonw as grilled on today by the Commons Liaison Committee (pictured)
He’d done his homework, reeling off facts and figures from the pages in front of him covered in his appalling handwriting (which looks as if a millipede has just emerged from an inkpot and crawled across the page).
His manner, too, suggested a bit of media coaching in advance. Members were addressed in matey, first name terms, their questions treated to a light basting of treacle.
‘You’re so right,’ Boris would respond gushingly, or: ‘You’re raising a very reasonable point.’
Last person I recall laying on the schmooze quite so thick was disgraced Barclays ex-boss Bob Diamond in front of the Treasury Committee in 2012.
Turned out Peter Mandelson had proffered some informal advice beforehand – surprise, surprise. It also helped Boris that there was no attack dog perched around the committee’s horseshoe-shaped table.
Boris Johnson appeared to be well-prepared and amicable while he was questioned for nearly five hours, writes Henry Deedes
Yvette Cooper (Lab, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) used to go at him pretty strong but has since been called up to Sir Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s other bete noire, Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda) was relegated to the subs bench for the day. He won’t have liked that.
Pete Wishart (SNP, Perth and North Perthshire) asked the Prime Minister what would happen if he was slapped with a fine over those Downing Street parties. ‘You’d be toast, wouldn’t ya? You’d be finished!’ he goaded.
Boris patted his hands together gently and closed his eyes. ‘Pete, Pete,’ he kept uttering, urging Wishart to simmer down. He insisted he would not be commenting until the police had completed their investigation.
Undeterred, Wishart continued to peck away. He made a gag about No 10 being far too boozy for him, despite his 15 years in various rock ‘n’ roll bands. Groan.
Mr Wishart has cracked this joke before, but politicians do tend to revel in their own hilarity. Chairman Clive Betts (Lab, Sheffield South East) felt it time to move on. Boris clearly wasn’t budging. Getting him to say anything on the matter was like trying to jemmy open an oyster with a Bic biro.
The Ukraine crisis was up next, which brought Tom Tugendhat (Con, Tonbridge and Malling) to the fore.
‘Good to see you, Prime Minister,’ said Tom, lying through his well-polished teeth. Mr Tugendhat doesn’t like Boris. Hilariously, he thinks he could succeed him. Tugendhat wanted an update on the military support the UK was providing invaded Ukraine.
Boris disclosed we were ‘looking on going up a gear’ possibly sending out armoured vehicles. He showed a command of the situation on the ground which seemed to quietly impress the committee. Even little Tugendhat.
Up next came Sarah Champion (Lab, Rotherham) who wanted to discuss the humanitarian fallout from the crisis.
Earlier at PMQs, Champion had given the Prime Minister a rough ride over high energy costs and continued in this aggressive vein, her voice sour as Sarson’s vinegar in a gaping wound.
The Prime Minister he was looking at increasing the amount of support the UK is proving Ukraine, mentioning armoured vehicles could be sent across
At one point, she alerted the Prime Minister to a minefield which needed clearing. She made it sound as straightforward as unblocking a gutter. Julian Knight (Con, Solihull) had a moan about Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries’s plans to set up a new committee dedicated to online regulation.
Knight insisted this was his committee’s (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) territory. Would Boris have a quiet word?
The Prime Minister blanched. Hmmm, well, yeah, the thing is, committee business wasn’t really his area. More one for Parliament, he insisted. A showdown with combustible Nad clearly scared the bejeezus out of him.
The subject of fertiliser prices was raised by Neil Parish (Con, Tiverton and Honiton). Ukraine is one of the biggest producers and prices are now four times what they were because of the crisis. He urged the Prime Minister to open a fertiliser manufacturing plant in the north of England.
Boris enthused he was keen to ‘spread the good stuff over the country as much as anyone’.
Turned out his grandfather had been a farmer. ‘Er, not a very good one,’ he admitted, thus saving the nation from generations of farmer Johnsons. Boris manning a combine. Can you imagine?