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Boris Johnson seized an opportunity at Prime Minister’s Questions to brag of our UK ‘world beating,’ saying, “I visited Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital yesterday to see the first clinically approved vaccine being given to people in London, as it is now across the country. This is a fantastic moment for all of us in this House, and I know that everybody will want to join me in thanking the NHS, the vaccine taskforce, the scientists and all the volunteers who have made this possible.” Next Tory MP Sir Edward Laigh took aim directly at the EU with, “When I was a spear carrier in the Brexit referendum campaign, led by my right hon. Friend, we assured the British people that a trade deal was entirely achievable, so may I urge him to make one last effort? Surely that deal is achievable, because we have no intention of lowering our standards, but the EU should know this: if, consistent with national security, he cannot secure that deal for us, this parliamentary party will back him to the hilt, because strength comes with unity.”
PMQs became the PMs Bully Pulpit of hardened resolve with Tory support for his devastating crash-out Brexit, he said, “I thank my right hon. Friend. He is entirely right: a good deal is still there to be done, and I look forward to discussing it with Commissioner von der Leyen tonight, but I must tell the House that our friends in the EU are currently insisting that, if they pass a new law in the future with which we in this country do not comply or do not follow suit, they should have the automatic right to punish us and to retaliate. Secondly, they are saying that the UK should be the only country in the world not to have sovereign control over its fishing waters. I do not believe that those are terms that any Prime Minister of this country should accept. I must tell the House and reassure my right hon. Friend that, whether our new trading arrangements resemble those of Australia’s with the EU or whether they are like those of Canada with the EU, I have absolutely no doubt that, from 1 January, this country is going to prosper mightily.”
Keir Starmer, compelled to join the vaccine praise, said, “I join the Prime Minister in his comments about the vaccine roll-out. It was fantastic to see the first person, Margaret Keenan, receive the vaccine yesterday. It is a huge national effort, and I want to thank everybody who has been involved with it. Mr Speaker, I also want to thank you and the House authorities for enabling me to participate today, notwithstanding the fact that I am self-isolating.” Then yet again he stumbled into a redundant question by asking, “A year ago, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and promised the country ‘a permanent break from talking about Brexit’. Can the Prime Minister tell us: how is that going?” The PM responded, “I am delighted to welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman here, from his vantage point of exile in Islington, his spiritual home and wish him all the best in his self-isolation.” Johnson’s response was all too predictable as he said, “His own silence on this matter has been sphinx-like. I wonder quite what it is that has kept him from asking this question for so long. We delivered Brexit on 31 January, in case he failed to notice.”
Starmer defensively snapped, “It is Camden, not Islington. The Prime Minister starts straight away by deflecting, it is the same old, same old, whether on covid or Brexit. Twelve months ago, he told the British people that he had an ‘oven-ready deal’. He did not say he had half a deal or that the next stage would be very, very difficult. In fact, he faced the British people and told them, before the election, that the chances of no deal were ‘absolutely zero’. The Chancellor, as he is now, obviously took him at his word, because the Chancellor said in the run-up to the election: ‘We won’t need to plan for no-deal because we…have a deal.’ So a year on, why should anyone who trusted the Prime Minister when he said he had a deal, including his Chancellor, apparently, believe a word he says now?”
Johnson reconfigured his empty pledge, saying, “I hesitate to accuse the right hon. and learned Gentleman of deliberately trying to mislead people, but let us be in no doubt that we had an oven-ready deal, which was the withdrawal agreement, which the people voted for, as he rightly points out, and by which this country left the customs union and the single market, and delivered on our promises. I can tell him, although he must know this, that whatever happens from 1 January this country will be able to get on with our points-based immigration system, which we have put into law, in fulfilment of our manifesto commitment. We will be able to get on with instituting low-tax free ports, in places where jobs and growth are most needed around the country. We will be able to honour our promise to the British people and institute higher animal welfare standards; we will be able to do free trade deals; and we will get our money back as well. I do not know what else he wants to see from 1 January, but all those things will be delivered.”
MPs in the Chamber have learned to tune out the PMs outrageous pledges when he launches into a Party Political Broadcast during PMQs to evade answering a question, but Starmer has yet to learn how to ask questions that render this tactic inappropriate so he lumbered on with, “Oh, I see. Apparently, ‘Get Brexit done’ just meant the first part of it—the easy bit. I do not remember that being written on the bulldozer at the time. Last September, the Prime Minister actually hit the nail on the head when he said that leaving without a deal would be a “failure of statecraft”. It would be, it would be a total failure, and it will be the British people who pay the price. Does the Prime Minister agree with his own spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility, that the cost of that failure, of leaving the EU with no deal, would be higher unemployment, higher inflation and a smaller economy?”
Johnson totally avoided addressing the matter by turning his reply into a question targeting Keir Starmer, “The more the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about Brexit, the more I can see why he tried to avoid the subject for the past year. We did leave with a very good deal, and in any circumstances this country will prosper mightily. He talks about the possible adverse consequences for this country of a deal on Australian terms, I think that is what he is talking about, but we have yet to hear from Labour party members what their view is of that matter. Would they vote for it, yes or no? He remained totally Delphic last week about his policy on fighting coronavirus and he is totally Delphic about what to do on Brexit as well.” The BBC have endorsed the devious Tory practice of avoiding all reasonable scrutiny by constantly quizzing Labour MPs on how they would vote for a deal that doesn’t exist!
Starmer strengthened his attack by focusing on the businesses that would be leaving the UK after crash-out Brexit and the jobs lost. He asked, “The Prime Minister talks about indecision; he is absolutely stuck, this is the truth of it, and dithering between the deal that he knows we need and the compromise that he knows his Back Benchers will not let him make. I genuinely hope that this is the usual Prime Minister’s bluster and that, like one of his newspaper columns, a deal arrives at the last minute. But for some people, and their jobs, it is already too late. Yesterday, INEOS, a major employer in this country, announced that it will not now build the new Grenadier car in Bridgend and will move production to France instead. This is a project that just two months ago the Prime Minister said was ‘a vote of confidence’. Hundreds of skilled jobs now will not go to Bridgend. Can the Prime Minister tell us how many more British jobs have to go overseas before he gets on with delivering the Brexit deal that he promised?”
Johnson tried to turn this question into ‘but what will the opposition do,’ but the Tory majority make it redundant! He said, “I think it is a bit much of the Leader of the Opposition to criticise the Government for failure to come up with a policy on Brexit and to attack the putative consequences of coming out on Australian terms when he cannot even say whether he would vote for that deal, yes or no. If he cannot say whether he would vote for our deal, yes or no, he simply cannot attack the Government’s policy. Until he is able to come up with a position of his own, wrap a towel round his head and decide what he actually thinks, I find it very difficult to take his criticisms seriously. What I can say is that this country will be ready for whether we have a Canadian or an Australian solution, and there will be jobs created in this country, throughout the whole of the UK, not just in spite of Brexit but because of Brexit, because this country is going to become a magnet for overseas investment. Indeed, it already is and will remain so.”
Starmer pointed out the obvious, “The Prime Minister asked me how I will vote on a deal that he has not even secured. Secure the deal, Prime Minister; you promised it. I can say this: if there is a deal, and I hope there is a deal, my party will vote in the national interest, not on party political lines, as he is doing. This is about leadership. The Prime Minister has done 15 U-turns, he has had five different plans on covid, and last week 53 of his own MPs voted against him, so if I were him I would not talk about leadership. The Prime Minister has not always wanted to listen to business, we know what his message to business is, but he should. Let me quote the CBI, which says that the message from business is this: ‘get a deal…quickly’. The National Farmers Union says: ‘Time is really running out and…it’s very hard to get final preparations in.’ These are the people the Prime Minister should be listening to, not his Back Benchers.”
Starmer’s next inquiry was bound not to get answered, but it was not really directe at the PM it was directed at the BBC and the lame UK Media who are failing to ask this important question of the PM in interviews. However I doubt that raising the overlooked scrutiny at PMQs will prompt them to grill him on the subject. Starmer asked, “On the question of preparation, the Government knew months ago that they needed 50,000 customs agents trained and ready to go from 1 January, deal or no deal, so can the Prime Minister tell the House how many of the 50,000 agents will be in place on 1 January? That is in 23 days’ time.”
The PMs predictably evasive response led to more bragging and bluster, “It is wonderful to get to the end of that question. I can tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we have already invested £1 billion in getting this country ready for whatever the trading relationship is that we have on 1 January. We have invested £84 million into supporting customs agents across the UK and £200 million into supporting our ports, and they are doing an amazing job. I want to thank business for the incredible job it is doing to get ready. We have all got to get ready, because under any view there is going to be change from 1 January, there will be change in the way we do business and there will be more opportunities for this country around the world. I am delighted by what I take is the increasing signalling from Camden, because the message from Camden seems to be that, given the choice, the right hon. and learned Gentleman would vote for a deal rather than not. Did my Back-Bench colleagues get that impression? I think I did.”
The Speaker interjected, “Hopefully, the final question will be a little shorter.” Starmer was on notice to keep his questioning brief, but first he doubled-down on the PMs empty reply saying, “I take it that the answer is the Prime Minister has no idea whether the 50,000 customs agents will be in place on 1 January. He either does not know or he does not care. The Prime Minister said he had a deal. He did not. He said he would protect jobs. He did not. He said he would prepare for any outcome. He has not. Whatever may happen in the next few days, there is no doubting that his incompetence has held Britain back. Will he end this charade? In that uncertainty, will he get the deal that he promised and allow the country to move on?” We all fear he will not!
Johnson made a pathetic attempt to turn this on Starmer saying, “I want to thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his final baffling question. Last week, as I have said, he sphinx-like avoided any pronouncement on how this country was going to fight covid. He refused to support the measures that we have put in place. This week, he remains deafeningly silent on what he really thinks about a Brexit deal. While he puts a cold towel round his head, lost in thought, and tries to work out what his position is, we are getting on—” a sudden interruption stopped Johnson’s tiresome drivel mid sentence as the Speaker intervened to restore discipline, “Order. Mr Bryant! I suggest the Whip has a word with him. We are not having that disgraceful behaviour.”
Johnson continued saying, “Mr Speaker, you should summon him back, he seems to have vanished. While the right hon. and learned Gentleman tries to work out what his position is, we are getting on with the work of government.” This led into the PMs standard Party Political Broadcast of boasts and fancifull pledges, “As he says, it is a year since this people’s Government were elected and I am very proud that we are delivering on the people’s priorities: 6,000 of the 20,000 police officers; 14,800 of the 50,000 nurses already; and we are getting on with building every one of the 40 hospitals, it is about 48 hospitals, that we are going to deliver, along with the biggest programme of infrastructure investment in this country for a century. We are uniting and levelling up across the whole of the UK. Whether the outcome is Canada or Australia, we will be taking back control, we have already taken back control of our money, our borders and our laws and we will seize all the opportunities that Brexit brings.”
Tory Andrew Jones compared the 60th anniversary of Cory on TV to the discussions on beefing up infrastructure in the north taking almost as long, but he didn’t admit Tory responsibility for abandoning the ‘Northern Powerhouse.’ As he put in a pitch for white elephant HS2 claiming that this, “would be good for jobs in the north and for connectivity with the east midlands…” He culminated with the latest Tory snow job saying, “all of which, of course, drive my right hon. Friend’s levelling-up agenda.” As always Johnson reveled in Tory ‘stroking’ responding, “My hon. Friend is a big expert in this field and a great campaigner for transport. He is right about the massive impact that these programmes can have on jobs.” There was another interruption where the Speaker found cause to scold, saying, “Mr Bryant, I think we need to have this conversation later.”
Johnson had not yet run out of steam as he continued, “I was saying, Mr Speaker, that my hon. Friend is completely right about the power of great infrastructure projects to deliver jobs, which is why we are getting on with both the eastern leg of HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. What I have asked the National Infrastructure Commission and Network Rail to look at is how those two projects can best be integrated to boost the economy of the whole of the north of the country.” The Tory track record of follow through on their ambitious pledges for northern England is abysmal, but they offer no apologies for failure or abandoned promises from the last time they conned the country into voting for them. So week after week we have to put up with Boris’s empty bragging.
SNP Leader Ian Blackford had his chance to pit Jogbson on the spot, asking, “Yesterday, by this Government’s own admission, it was confirmed that Northern Ireland is getting the best of both worlds: access to the EU single market and customs union. This is great news for businesses in Northern Ireland, but it leaves Scotland, which also voted to remain, dealing with the hardest of Brexits. What is good for Northern Ireland is surely good enough for Scotland. Why is Scotland being shafted by this double dealing? Can the Prime Minister explain to Scottish businesses why this is fair?” Scotland will be shafted by crash-out Brexit!
The PM had to keep the harsh reality hidden so he started into a standard string of lies saying, “In common with the whole of the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland will benefit. It will benefit from substantial access to devolved powers, it will benefit from the regaining of money, borders and laws, and, as I never tire of telling my friend, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), that, in spite of all his jeering, Scotland will take back control of colossal quantities of fish, which is something that the people of Scotland deserve to be able to exploit for the advantage of those communities.” In reality Scotland already has far greater control over their fishing grounds than the rest of the UK because Scotish fishermen did not sell off their fishing quotas to other EU competitors. Admittedly the UK Government failed to invest in our local fishing fleets when offered matching EU funds. Other EU coastal states took advantage of this funding to modernize their fleet; UK fishermen sold their quotas, but now cry foul!
Blackford shot back with, “The Prime Minister can spin all he likes, but everybody can now see the total contempt that this UK Government have for Scottish interests. Northern Ireland gets the single market and customs union; we get nothing. Members of his Scottish branch office told him how unfair and damaging it would be to deny Scotland’s access to the EU single market and customs union while at the same time delivering it for Northern Ireland. Ruth Davidson even said that such an act would ‘undermine the integrity’ of the United Kingdom. The former Scottish Tory constitution spokesperson said that it would be the end of the Union. They, along with the former Secretary of State for Scotland, said that if this were to happen, they would all resign. Since the Prime Minister is ready to sell out Scotland’s interests with his Brexit deal, does he expect to receive these resignation letters from Baroness Davidson and her cohort before or after her travels to Brussels tonight?”
Johnson replied that, “The only reasonable answer to that question is that I think it is highly unlikely that those letters will arrive. The right hon. Gentleman does a gross injustice to Scotland and the future of Scotland, which will be assured within the single market of the United Kingdom. In spite of the slight negativity that I detect from him, I believe that Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, will benefit from a very strong trading relationship with our friends and partners across the channel, whatever the circumstances, whatever the terms we reach tonight.”
Our only Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, probed the PMs psido green credentials saying, “Last week, we learned that UK Export Finance has been approached to back the east African crude oil pipeline. This is a climate catastrophe that will produce emissions equivalent to all the UKs annual flights. Not only that, but a recent response to one of my written parliamentary questions confirmed that UKEF has six more fossil fuel projects under consideration. Ahead of the climate ambition summit this weekend, how can the Prime Minister claim any climate credibility while ploughing public money into dirty fossil fuel projects overseas? Are these the actions of a rogue, out of control Government Department—or, worse, does the Prime Minister actually approve of them?” The PM ridiculed Lucas’s criticism as absurd, trying to divert her attention to focus in his ambitious empty pledges, saying, “Look at the overall record and ambition of this Government; this is the first country in the developed world to set a target of net zero by 2050.”
Tory Kevin Hollinrake hailed Patel’s recent deportation flights and the PM agreed: roll on Windrush 2! Tory Bob Blackman urged the PM to act long since, “the Grenfell fire tragedy that cost the lives of 72 people,” as 3.6 million leaseholders still live in “potentially dangerous, unsaleable and unmortgageable properties.” Labour’s Feryal Clark warned the Government of the risk of “failing a generation of children as only one in six pupils on free school meals, those who are most likely to fall behind their peers, will benefit from the programmes to help them catch up on learning lost as a result of covid?” Labour’s Derek Twigg brought up the issue of the devastating impact on the Falkland Island economy of high EU tariffs being imposed on fish as the plight of Crown territories and overseas dependencies around the world gets forgotten in the Brexit debate. True to form Tory, Sir Oliver Heald ranted about the pestilence of illegal encampments in an effort to urge the Government to fulfill its toxic manifesto pledge to target the Gypsies.
Labour’s Richard Burgon exposed the disgraceful reality of the Government’s, “Real-terms pay cuts for millions of public sector workers, an insulting 37p increase in benefit levels and broken promises on minimum wage increases show that the Prime Minister wants to pay for this crisis on the backs of the working class. Would it not be fairer to impose a windfall tax on the wealth of the super-rich and on those who have made super-profits out of the covid crisis, including those who won contracts because of their links to top Tories?” But there is no way to shame Boris Johnson or any of his filthy rich Tory friends into paying their fair share of the tax burden; the PM ‘strongly disabreed” as he ranted about being proud of pitance increases under the new Tory vanner of ‘levelling up.’ It’s vital we continue to expose this deception, challenge the squandering of public funds and demand an Investigation into Tory corruption at the Covert 2019 Rigged Election so that we can shake loose from their yolk of misery: Get The Tories Out! DO NOT MOVE ON!