Prime Minister plays for laughs in policy-light conference speech

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Boris Johnson opted to deliver a conference speech punctuated with jokey slogans and well-rehearsed attacks on opponents rather than detail new policy announcements.

– The Prime Minister started as he intended to go on by expressing his delight at the in-person conference in Manchester, adding in a reference to former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn: “It is the first time since the general election of 2019 when we finally sent that corduroyed cosmonaut into orbit where he belongs.”

– Michael Gove was next in Mr Johnson’s sights after the Communities Secretary was filmed on the dancefloor during a summer visit to the Pipe nightclub in Aberdeen.

Mr Johnson suggested Mr Gove was leading by example to show dancing was safe again after the lifting of coronavirus restrictions, adding: “Let’s hear it for Jon Bon Govey.”

Conservative Party Conference
Communities Secretary Michael Gove was branded ‘Jon Bon Govey’ by Boris Johnson after his performance at an Aberdeen nightclub in the summer (Peter Byrne/PA)

– He backed Home Secretary Priti Patel’s targeting of environmental protesters from Insulate Britain, saying: “I’m glad Priti is taking new powers to insulate them snuggly in prison where they belong.”

– After outlining his intended immigration reforms, Mr Johnson attempted to make fun of the EU’s former Brexit negotiator and translated the Leave campaign’s “take back control” slogan into French.

Mr Johnson said: “Is it not a sublime irony that even in French politics there is now a leading centre-right politician calling for a referendum on the EU?

“Who is now calling for France to reprendre le controle? It’s good old Michel Barnier.”

Brexit
Former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier was the butt of one of the Prime Minister’s conference jokes (Victoria Jones/PA)

– Mr Johnson added in a nod to the UK’s Brexit negotiator: “That’s what happens if you spend a year trying to argue with Lord Frost, the greatest frost since the Great Frost of 1709.”

– The Prime Minister also attempted to adapt his “build back better” slogan for laughs, noting on trade deals: “After decades of bewildering refusal, we have persuaded the Americans to import prime British beef – a market already worth £66 million.

“Build back burger, I say.”

– He also joked about being unable to paint the door of 10 Downing Street and shared an ambition of trying to “rewild” parts of the country as he welcomed otters and beavers returning to rivers.

“If that isn’t conservative, my friends, I don’t know what is – build back beaver, I say,” he said.

– On the new Australia, UK and US defence pact (Aukus), Mr Johnson alluded to French unhappiness as he referred to the “raucous caucus from the anti-Aukus caucus”.

Labour Party Conference 2021
Boris Johnson said Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer ‘looked like a seriously rattled bus conductor’ at his party’s conference last week (Andrew Matthews/PA)

– Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, dubbed Captain Hindsight by Mr Johnson, was criticised for his responses throughout the pandemic.

On last week’s Labour Party conference in Brighton, Mr Johnson said: “Their leader looked like a seriously rattled bus conductor, pushed this way and that by a Corbynista mob, Sellotaped-spectacled soggy lot.

“Remember Labour’s performance during the pandemic? Flapping with the conviction of a damp tea towel.”

Mr Johnson added: “If Columbus had listened to Captain Hindsight, he’d be famous for having discovered Tenerife.”

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told the PA news agency that the Columbus joke “was very funny” and his favourite of the speech.

– Mr Johnson also appeared to make light of speculation over the number of children he has, following his confirmation in September that he has six kids.

Mr Johnson praised the UK’s sporting achievements, mentioning the 2020 Olympics and saying: “It is an incredible thing to come yet again in the top four. A formidable effort for a country that has only 0.8% of the world’s population – despite, Jacob, of all our best efforts.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg also has six children.

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