The five most uncomfortable moments for Boris Johnson during grilling by MPs

James Morris
Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK

Before Wednesday, Boris Johnson had never appeared before the House of Commons liaison committee.

And, after a gruelling 100 minutes of searching questions by MPs, Johnson will not be looking forward to the next occasion.

Here are his five most uncomfortable moments during the session.

1. Johnson said he has evidence to prove Dominic Cummings was telling the truth... but won’t share it

The PM told MPs he has seen evidence to prove some of the lockdown breach allegations made against his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, were false.

But asked by Labour MP Meg Hillier whether the cabinet secretary – the UK’s most senior civil servant – should also see that evidence, Johnson said: “I think actually that it would not be doing my job if I were now to shuffle this problem into the hands of officials who, believe me, Meg, are – as I think the public would want – working flat out to deal with coronavirus.”

2. Johnson, the leader of the country, admitted he has been ‘forbidden’ from setting deadlines

Johnson set a target of people getting coronavirus tests back within 24 hours, but declined to say when it would be met, saying he had been “forbidden from announcing any more targets and deadlines”.

He would only say: “It’s going to be as soon as possible.”

The government previously came under huge pressure after health secretary Matt Hancock set a target of 100,000 daily COVID-19 tests by the end of April. Hancock achieved his testing goal, but was accused of “massaging the figures”.

3. ‘Hang on, Stephen’

Johnson appeared confused when Labour MP Stephen Timms asked him about a couple in his constituency who have no recourse to public funds.

This is a condition applied to people staying in the UK with a temporary immigration status “to protect public funds”.

Timms told the PM: “They both work, they have two children. The husband’s employer didn’t put him on the job retention scheme so he has zero income, his wife is still working but her income is less than their household rent.

“They have leave to remain in the UK but no recourse for public funds, so they can’t get any help at all. Isn’t it wrong that a hard-working, law-abiding family like that is being forced by the current arrangements into destitution?”

Boris Johnson appearing before the liaison committee on Wednesday. (PA)

Johnson responded: “Hang on, Stephen, why aren’t they eligible for universal credit or employment support allowance or any of the other benefits?”

Timms explained: “It’s because they have no recourse for public funds, that’s the condition that’s attached to their leave to remain. They’ve been here for years.”

Johnson said: “I’m going to have to come back to you on that, Stephen.” He pledged to find out how many people are in this position “and we will see what we can do to help”.

Labour frontbencher Jess Phillips tweeted: “Boris Johnson not knowing what no recourse to public funds means was quite phenomenal.”

4. Johnson accused of ‘ducking’ Dominic Cummings saga

Labour MP Yvette Cooper told Johnson to choose between protecting his embattled chief adviser Dominic Cummings and the national interest.

Cooper accused him of “ducking” the issue and putting his “political concerns” ahead of public health messaging.

Johnson hit back, implying she was engaging in “political point-scoring” and insisting it was vital to move on from the controversy.

5. ‘Not a joking matter’

Johnson was reprimanded after laughing when he was asked about a lack of female decision makers in the government’s coronavirus response.

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes asked him: “You made the distinction between there being a lot of women and enough women. How many is enough?”

Johnson responded “oh boy” before laughing. “That’s a question on which I’m not competent to pronounce.”

He was told by chair Sir Bernard Jenkin: “It’s not a joking matter though, is it?”