It had to happen at a Prime Minister’s Questions that This Writer didn’t see.
For once, Labour leader Keir Starmer had a good week – but then, with the kind of ammunition he has been provided over the last few days, he could hardly go wrong.
He spent most of his time on the financing of renovations to Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat. Questions over the origin of £60,000 of funding were asked months ago and not answered.
Now, Starmer asked directly whether the money – now pegged at £58,000 – was put up by Lord Brownlow – and Johnson failed to answer directly.
Rather than saying whether Brownlow had any involvement, he simply asserted – repeatedly – that he himself had “covered the cost”.
Starmer: Who paid for Downing Street flat refurbishment?
Johnson: I paid personally
S: Who paid for the 'initial' invoice?
J: I have covered the cost
S: Did Lord Brownload pay £58,000 for the refurb?
— UK is with EU (@ukiswitheu) April 28, 2021
It would be entirely possible for Johnson to have “covered the cost” after receiving the money from a third party – and the fact that he did not flatly deny any involvement by Brownlow means his claim is meaningless.
But it may be Starmer’s first question that turns out to have been the bigger bear-trap. He asked whether it was true that Johnson had said he would rather have “bodies piled high” than implement another lockdown.
Johnson answered with a categorical “no”, coupled with a demand for Starmer to bring forward any evidence he had.
That may seem fairly straightforward.
But then Starmer said he would follow up on his question in the future.
— Brexitshambles (@brexit_sham) April 28, 2021
And then the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford waded into the fray. Acknowledging that MPs aren’t allowed to directly accuse each other of dishonesty, he simply asked Johnson to say whether he is a liar or not.
And Johnson wouldn’t:
"People have lost their mothers and fathers, grandparents, and even their children. That's why so many find the Prime Minister's remarks utterly sickening."
— Tom French (@tomfrench85) April 28, 2021
As you can see from the clip, first he tried to worm out of answering by querying whether the question was in order – it was.
Then he (again) questioned the evidence of him having done as Blackford (and Starmer) had suggested.
And then he responded that he had not said those words (leading us all to conclude that they may be a close paraphrase of whatever he really said).
Under this kind of pressure, perhaps it should come as no surprise that, while responding to Starmer’s claim that he was “Major Sleaze”*, Johnson underwent what might be described as a “sulk-out” – a two-minute rant that failed to address what he had been asked…
"Who's at the heart of it? The Prime Minister – major sleaze, sitting there"
— LBC (@LBC) April 28, 2021
… including another false claim – that Starmer had voted against the Tory government’s Brexit deal.
And this is important, because…
As a result of all these accusations of dishonesty, Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle has supported a plan to enforce the rules on misleading Parliament.
Amid a fresh row over the prime minister’s “lies” to MPs, Lindsay Hoyle supported a proposal for the cross-party Commons Procedure Committee to look into “how perceived inaccuracies could be corrected” as quickly as possible.
This could create serious difficulties for Johnson, whose serial lies were mentioned on This Site very recently.
You see, Starmer is right – any minister who knowingly misleads Parliament – including the Prime Minister – is expected to offer their resignation.
If the Procedure Committee puts this expectation on a more formal basis – and Starmer produced the evidence that Johnson did make a comment to the effect that he would rather see multiple deaths than impose a lockdown – then that would signal the end of his premiership.
And it wouldn’t be a day too soon.
*That should be Major Corruption, as reported a few days ago by This Site (and others) – but perhaps Starmer was restricted from saying as much by Parliamentary rules (again).
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