Boris Johnson’s remote PMQs: five things we learned

By David Hughes, PA Political Editor
·3-min read

Boris Johnson may have been working from home due to his coronavirus self-isolation but he was still able to do Prime Minister’s Questions.

Here are five things we learned:

– It was (almost) business as usual.

The Prime Minister answered his first question with a slight variation on the usual form of words: “This morning I had virtual meetings with ministerial colleagues and others; in addition to my virtual duties in this House I shall have further such meetings today.”

Apart from the Prime Minister’s appearance in the Commons being limited to the TV screens dotted around the Chamber, the Wednesday showdown was little different to any other – with the usual political attacks and “Captain Hindsight” jibes at Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer as they clashed over the coronavirus response and Mr Johnson’s views on devolution.

Prime Minister’s Questions
Boris Johnson speaks via video link during Prime Minister’s Questions (House of Commons/PA)

Mr Johnson is confined to Downing Street after coming into contact with Tory MP Lee Anderson, who has coronavirus.

– The Commons is not immune to video conferencing glitches.

The first remote question answered by a remote Prime Minister saw Andrew Rosindell start speaking while muted. A reminder by Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to “press the button Andrew” helped restore communications to Mr Ronsindell’s Romford constituency.

Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP Margaret Ferrier’s question was audio only – a graphic of a telephone was shown on the Commons screens – but she was met with groans from those in the House anyway.

The last time she had been in the Commons she broke coronavirus rules and was suspended by the SNP and urged to quit as an MP as a result.

– While the Prime Minister may be able to comfortably self-isolate, not everyone can.

Sir Keir said the £500 self-isolation support payments were only available to around one-in-eight workers.

He said: “If you’re a self-employed plumber, a construction worker, a photographer and you don’t qualify for social security benefits or you run a small business and you can’t work from home, you are likely to see a significant cut to your income if you have to self-isolate.”

Prime Minister’s Questions
Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears via video link in the Commons (House of Commons/PA)

-The Prime Minister’s absence made it easier for the Speaker to cut him off

Mr Johnson was in the middle of a lengthy attack on the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford when the Speaker cut across him and called the next question.

Sir Lindsay also gave the Prime Minister a ticking off for referring to the Scottish nationalist party rather than the Scottish National Party.

– The “chatty rat” inquiry continues

Sir Lindsay had demanded action from the Prime Minister after news of England’s second lockdown leaked – with the culprit dubbed the “chatty rat” – and was confirmed at a weekend press conference rather than in Parliament.

Mr Johnson said the Speaker had been updated on the progress of the investigation by Downing Street officials on confidential Privy Council terms.

“I take this matter extremely seriously and I commit to returning to update the House in due course,” he said.