PMQs analysis: Like a wounded lion, some of Boris Johnson’s fight had gone but he wasn’t going head bowed into the political wilderness

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Boris Johnson speaks at possibly his last Prime Minister’s Questions  (PA Wire)
Boris Johnson speaks at possibly his last Prime Minister’s Questions (PA Wire)

Boris Johnson was never going to leave quietly.

Like a wounded lion, some of the fight appeared to have gone out of him at Prime Minister’s Questions.

But he was far from ready to wander off into the political wilderness with his head bowed.

Just days ago he was roaring, fighting and lashing out to stay in office, unceremoniously axing Michael Gove from the Cabinet, possibly with a touch of revenge for the latter’s 2016 knifing of his then leadership bid.

By on Wednesday Mr Johnson, though, had clearly accepted his fate.

As he arrived in the Chamber he was loudly cheered by many Tory MPs.

A noxious waft of hypocrisy hovered above the green benches as some of the MPs voicing their approval were part of the “herd” which had finally moved so decisively to kill off his controversy and scandal-dogged premiership.

Chaos swiftly erupted.

Two Scottish nationalist Alba MPs were ejected from the Chamber, with Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle calling in the Serjeant at Arms to ensure they left after they unleashed hardly comprehensible attacks on the Prime Minister, about a referendum of some sorts.

Once the bizarre pandemonium had died down, Sir Keir Starmer used his questions to attack Mr Johnson but also some of the eight contenders still in the contest to take over as leader of the Tory pride.

Firstly, the Labour leader asked the PM to scrap “the absurd” non-dom status that allows the “super-rich to dodge tax”, a hardly veiled swipe at Rishi Sunak whose wife had non-dom status, though, there is no evidence of the Chancellor or his family seeking to dodge paying their tax dues.

Sir Keir then tore into the new Cabinet which could be one of the shortest lived in history.

“May I welcome the new Cabinet to their places. We have a new Chancellor who accepted a job from the Prime Minister on Wednesday afternoon and then told him to quit on Thursday morning,” quipped Sir Keir.

“A new Northern Ireland Secretary who once asked if you need a passport to get to Derry. The new Education Secretary, whose junior ministers have literally been giving the middle finger to the public. It is truly the country’s loss that they will only be in post for a few weeks.

“Now, the Prime Minister must be feeling demob happy since he was pushed out of office. Finally, he can throw off the shackles, say what he really thinks and forget about following the rules.

“So, does he agree it’s time to scrap the absurd non-dom status that allows the super-rich to dodge tax in this country?”

Mr Johnson replied: “It’s perfectly true that I am grateful for the ability to speak my mind, which I have never really lost.

“But what I am focusing on is continuing the Government of the country. As I just told you, from tomorrow £326, never mind non-dom. Doms or non-doms, I don’t mind. £326 is arriving in the bank accounts of eight million vulnerable people.”

Striking a note of self-deprecation, he added: “One of the consolations of leaving office at this particular time is that vacancies are at an all-time high.”

He then unleashed a trademark, lexicon-charged, derisive onslaught on Sir Keir, saying: “Anyone would wipe the floor with Captain Crasheroony Snoozefest.

“And after a few weeks’ time, that is exactly what they will do. They will unite around the winner and they will do just that.”

The Labour leader, though, appeared sure-footed, not necessarily a frequent situation at PMQs.

But with the Prime Minister now so injured, Sir Keir turned his guns on ex-Health Secretary Sajid Javid who has refused to say where he has always been domiciled for tax purposes - though insists he has always followed the rules.

The Labour leader probed the PM: “He’s being saying all week that he wants revenge on those that have wronged him. Here’s an idea, Prime Minister, if he really wants to hit them where it hurts, he should tighten the rules on tax avoidance.

“At the very least, does he agree that anyone running to be Prime Minister should declare where they and their families have been domiciled for tax purposes, and whether they have ever been a beneficiary of an offshore tax scheme?”

The Prime Minister replied: “To the best of my knowledge, everybody in this Parliament - everybody in this House - pays their full whack of tax in this country.

“Members across the House should cease this constant vilification of each other. I think people pay their fair share of taxes, and quite right.

“What we’re doing, and it is thanks to the tax yield that we have had, that we are able to support the people of this country in the way that we are.”

Sir Keir went on to criticise the Chancellor, branding Nadhim Zahawi “the MP for Stratford and Gibraltar” as he questioned his tax cut promises of “tens of billions of pounds”.

But then Mr Johnson threw in a curveball, by hinting he may not turn up for the last Prime Minister’s Question of this year, next Wednesday, before the House rises for the summer.

Could he be about to embark on a farewell foreign trip?

He would certainly be welcomed in Kyiv given his full-throttled support for Ukraine over Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion of the country.

Or was it just a rhetorical flourish to open up an attack line on Sir Keir?

Whatever, it was, Mr Johnson was not giving up yet.

“The next leader of my party may be elected by acclamation, so it is possible this will be our last confrontation, it is possible,” he said, which is true but unlikely given that Tory party chiefs want their next leader to be chosen by the party members, not just MPs, which will take weeks.

However, the PM continued: “So, I want to thank him for the style in which he conducted himself. I think it would be fair to say he has been considerably less lethal than many other members of this House.

“There is a reason for that: because over three years, in spite of every opportunity, he has never really come up with an idea, a plan, or a vision for this country.”

But by now he was admitting that his days as premier are numbered, and was possibly bringing down the curtain on his last PMQs’ appearance.

“It is perfectly true that I leave not at a time of my choosing, it is absolutely true,” he said.

“But I am proud of the fantastic teamwork that has been involved in all of those projects both nationally and internationally, and I am also proud of the leadership that I have given.

“I will be leaving with my head held high.”

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