politics

8 key questions from Boris Johnson's liaison committee grilling


Boris Johnson faced a fresh barrage of questions from the senior MPs on the Commons liaison committee today.

The powerful committee is among the only opportunities for MPs to hold the Prime Minister to account for an extended period of time.

It’s made up of a selection of chairs from other Commons committees – and sees the PM subject himself to 90 minutes of grilling from them.

Today’s session included questions on the PM’s flat refurb, the sacking – or not – of Matt Hancock, cuts to Universal Credit, Housing, Brexit and more.

Here’s a round up of the notable questions and answers – or, as has become a theme, the lack of answers.

1. He said more women on furlough was a “positive” thing

The PM got into a row with Tory former minister Caroline Nokes, over his commitment to “build back more feminine”.

Mr Johnson said the furlough scheme had “generally attracted more female recipients than male, so far, which I think is positive”.

Ms Nokes pointed out that this shows women were more likely to work in areas that had been shut down by the pandemic.

“We want to make sure that we have female employment rising across the board,” the PM insisted – adding that the gender pay gap is at an “all time low”.

He then went on an unprompted diversion about how all the top ambassador jobs at the Foreign Office are women.

Ms Nokes noted he could not point to a single policy that would help the government “build back more feminine.”

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2. He refused to say whether he sacked Matt Hancock








The PM appearing before the Liaison committee
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Image:

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Labour MP Chris Bryant repeatedly asked Boris Johnson at the Commons Liaison Committee whether or not he had sacked former health secretary Matt Hancock.

“On your question about Mr Hancock, the former health secretary, let me just go back to what I said many, many times, and I think I said on the floor of the House of Commons,” the Prime Minister told MPs.

“Which was that we all read about the story concerning Mr Hancock and the CCTV and so forth on I think the Friday, and we had a new health secretary on the Saturday.

“And considering that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and it’s quite a thing to move your health secretary, Mr Bryant, I think that was quite fast-going if I may say so and that’s all I have to say on that matter.”

Mr Bryant also challenged the PM to explain why he so rarely corrects the record after saying things in public which are manifestly false.

While Mr Johnson went on a tear about the Vote Leave bus’ erroneous claim about the amount of money sent to the EU was, if you squint a bit, in the ballpark, he did not answer the charge.



4. He said things about housing that weren’t even kind of true

Labour’s Meg Hillier challenged the PM over the lack of affordable housing – and his party’s focus on ownership over making homes available to people who can’t afford to buy.

The Prime Minister responded with a made up claim about the number of council houses the Conservative Party had built.

He claimed that in “just one year”, his party had built more houses than Labour had in 13 years in Government.

He didn’t say which year, but it doesn’t matter, it’s not true.

The most the Tories have managed to build in a year since coming to power in 2010 was 2,630 – in 2014, long before he became Prime Minister.

That’s less than the (very low) 3,330 built by Labour between 1997 and 2010.

It’s also worth noting that by far the most affordable housing is built not by Councils themselves, but by Housing Associations (HA).

Over their 13 years in power, the combined number of homes built by councils and HAs was around 579,000 – averaging 44,000 a year.

By comparison, since the Tories came to power, the UK has built 289,070 homes between councils and Local Authorities – averaging a little over 26,000 a year.

So, in fact, Labour built almost twice as many affordable homes as the Tories.



5. He refused to answer questions about the funding of his flat refurb

The PM was asked to explain the circumstances surrounding the funding of his flat refurbishment – but refused to answer.

Chris Bryant noted there was a “circular argument” between two documents on the subject – which admitted there was, at one time, an “interest” that should have been declared, but that by the time the register had been published, it had been resolved.

It’s been claimed the refurb was originally paid for with a loan, but this was paid back by the PM after questions were raised about the flat.

Mr Johnson insisted everything that needed to be registered was “duly registered” and refused to say anything further.

6. He finally admitted there was a “loophole” allowing a disgraced former Tory MP to avoid being ousted from Parliament – and that it should be closed

Johnson has admitted that a “loophole” which saves MPs suspended for sexual misconduct from facing a recall petition should be closed.

The Prime Minister has been under pressure to act after MP Rob Roberts said he will “continue to serve” after he was suspended for six weeks for harassing an employee.

Mr Johnson said he will back a rules shake-up, saying: “There is clearly a loophole and I see no reason why it shouldn’t be closed.”



7. He helpfully listed just some of the problems with his own Brexit deal



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The PM helpfully outlined just some of the problems in his Brexit deal in Northern Ireland in a lengthy moan to MPs.

The Prime Minister, sounding for all the world as if the idea of the Northern Ireland border being a complicated thing had only just occurred to him, outlined a string of difficulties faced by people in the region since his “oven ready deal” came into force.

Speaking to a committee of MPs, he said: “You’ve got a very difficult situation in which vital drugs have not been able to be moved from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. 30 drugs including cancer drugs.

“I think about 200 companies have stopped shipping stuff. There’s been impediments to the movement of guide dogs, of parcels, of potted plants, of tractor parts.

“And I think I’m right in saying that Asda don’t actually have Asda shops in the Republic of Ireland, yet as the goods that are coming into Northern Ireland have all to be checked.”

He went on to describe Jewish people leaving Northern Ireland because they were struggling to source kosher food as an “exodus.”



8. He insisted he won’t u-turn on Universal Credit cuts

Asked if he accepted removing the uplift will cause hardship to many people, the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee: “I think that the best way forward is to get people into higher wage, higher skilled jobs.

“That’s the ambition of this Government and if you ask me to make a choice between more welfare or better, higher paid jobs, I’m going to go for better, higher paid jobs.”

Despite 37% of claimants already having a job, he repeatedly insisted: “The answer is to get people into work”.

And he signalled he would not U-turn, saying: “Of course we keep everything under constant review but I’ve given you a pretty clear steer of what my instincts are.”





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