BORIS JOHNSON’S first – and, potentially, last appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions – was made even more remarkable by the general election ‘phoney war’.
Intemperate language that would shame Winston Churchill, and past leaders, masked an extraordinary stand-off between the PM and Jeremy Corbyn who tried, and failed, to illicit new information about negotiations with the EU.
It saw Mr Johnson, the Tory leader who did not want an early election, goading the Labour leader to support a snap pre-Brexit poll on October 14, and Mr Corbyn, who has been demanding just such a vote for two years, rebuffing the overture for strategic reasons.
Evidence of the Parliamentary deadlock, Mr Johnson’s reckless rhetoric – he dismissed moves to block a no-deal Brexit as Mr Corbyn’s ‘surrender bill’ – only risks fuelling further electoral division.
The reason is this. When Theresa May called a Brexit election in 2017, she anticipated the Tories making sweeping gains in those Labour-held seats in the North which voted to leave the EU.
It did not materialise – elections are rarely single-issue campaigns – and now Mr Johnson faces going to the country, after losing his Commons majority so soon after taking office, after the Conservatives adopted a hardline approach to Brexit.
The consequence is that it will be harder to offset the losses that the Tories could incur in areas that backed Remain, like London and Scotland, as well as those seats which the pro-EU Lib Dems will target.
And when the Tories are so intent on purging the Parliamentary party, a week after Scottish leader Ruth Davidson quit, of moderates like Kenneth Clarke and Philip Hammond, both former Chancellors; centrists like Justine Greening and Rory Stewart, and grandees like Sir Nicholas Soames, Churchill’s grandson, it is even more reason to rue Mr Johnson’s surrender of statesmanship.