LONDON: Boris Johnson defended his record in office as he faced questions about his leadership and political future.
In a rowdy session of Prime Minister’s Questions, Johnson was cheered by Tory MPs as he rejected claims he was not fit for office. The Prime Minister’s appearance in the Chamber followed criticism from within his party in a series of hostile briefings since a chaotic speech at the Confederation of British Industry on Monday.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer highlighted Tory divisions over Johnson’s style and rumours of a rift with Chancellor Rishi Sunak. The Chancellor sat next to Johnson in the Chamber as Sir Keir said: “The Prime Minister’s routine is falling flat. His Chancellor is worried that people are getting wise, his backbenchers say it’s embarrassing… and senior people in Downing Street tell the BBC ‘it’s just not working’.”
Echoing the question asked by a journalist on Monday, Sir Keir said: “Is everything OK, Prime Minister?” The Prime Minister responded: “I’ll tell you what’s not working, it’s that line of attack.”
The Labour leader accused Johnson of breaking a promise that no one would have to sell their home to pay for social care under his reforms for England, on top of a pledge he had already abandoned on not raising taxes.
Sir Keir said: “Who knows if he will make it to the next election. But if he does, how does he expect anyone to take him and his promises seriously?” The Labour leader branded the social care cap a “working class dementia tax” because poorer families face losing proportionally more of their assets than wealthier ones. Johnson defended his record and attacked Labour, saying his social care plan “does more for working people up and down the country than Labour ever did”.
And he said: “There are now more people in work than there were before the pandemic began, that’s because of the policies this Government has pursued.”
There was more support for Mr Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions than there had been last week, although some gaps were still visible on the Tory benches.
At one point as Conservatives barracked Sir Keir, the Labour leader said: “I see they have turned up this week, Prime Minister.” The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the Prime Minister “can’t even give a coherent speech to business” adding: “Officials have lost confidence in him, Tory MPs have lost confidence in him – the letters are going in – and the public have lost confidence in him. “Why is he clinging on when quite simply he isn’t up to the job?”
The Prime Minister asked Blackford “what on earth he is doing talking about party political issues” when the people of Scotland wanted to know about the “manifold failures” of the SNP government in Edinburgh.
The Commons exchanges came after Cabinet minister Dominic Raab insisted the Prime Minister “is on great form” and dismissed “Westminster tittle tattle” about his position.
Downing Street was forced to insist that the Prime Minister was physically “well” and “focused on delivering for the public” following questions about the CBI speech on Monday which saw him lose his place in his notes, impersonate a car and talk about a visit to Peppa Pig World.
Rumours have swirled about strained relations between Mr Johnson’s No 10 and Mr Sunak’s No 11 since a “senior Downing Street source” told the BBC “there is a lot of concern inside the building about the PM” and “it’s just not working”.
Allies of Sunak denied the Treasury was involved in the briefing. The anonymous source of the incendiary briefing to the BBC has been dubbed the “Chatty Pig” in Westminster, as the comments emerged following the Prime Minister’s CBI speech.
Justice Secretary Raab told BBC Breakfast: “It’s the job of Westminster commentators to pick up on one anonymous source from wherever they found it to criticise the Government of the day, that’s fine.”
He said Johnson was “focused on the job at hand”, adding: “The Prime Minister is an ebullient, bouncy, optimistic, Tiggerish character and he livens up his speeches in a way that few politicians past and present have done, but actually there is a steeliness to him as a Prime Minister and indeed his team, and we work as a team.”
One Tory MP told the PA news agency Johnson was “losing the confidence” of his backbenchers and should quit in the new year. The MP would not say whether they had submitted a letter to the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers calling for Johnson to quit.
But the Telegraph quoted a Tory whip as saying it was an “assumption” that some MPs had sent no-confidence letters to the 1922 Committee. If 15 per cent of sitting Conservatives submit letters then there would be a vote on his leadership, although the whip said “it will not get anywhere near the 50 letters you would need, but it does cause angst”.
Asked about the suggestion that letters had been sent to the 1922 Committee, Raab told LBC: “There is the usual Westminster tittle tattle and I’m not aware of that.”
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