5 highlights from the Prime Minister’s grilling at the liaison committee

© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

1. Boris Johnson admitted the UK doesn’t have enough Covid testing capacity…

Asked whether the UK has enough testing capacity to meet demand by Tory MP Greg Clark, the Prime Minister said: “The short answer is no, we don’t. We don’t have the testing capacity. We would like to test everyone who wants a test.”

Johnson went on to tell the committee that the government would increase capacity to 500,000 by the end of October. At the moment, the UK has a reported capacity of 375,000, but is carrying out around 230,000 tests per day.

He blamed test shortages on people asking for them when not needed. He said doing so was “reasonable” but argued the guidance was only to get a test if they start to display symptoms of the virus.

Johnson then added that a person should only otherwise request a Covid test if they have come into contact with someone who has themselves received a positive result, and should continue to work or attend school while they wait.

The government faced a backlash earlier this week following reports on Tuesday afternoon that there were no coronavirus tests available in any of the top ten Covid hotspots. Matt Hancock had told the public in July to get a test “if in doubt”.

2. The PM proved he is not on top of his brief, again…

Labour MP Catherine McKinnell raised the plight of pregnant women and expecting parents in the pandemic. She told Johnson that “it is easier for an expectant father to go to the pub, or go grouse shooting, than to attend his own baby’s growth scans”.

McKinnell highlighted the problems facing parents, particularly new mums: “Women attending anxious anti-natal scans alone; induced into labour without their partner; struggling to access advice and support; facing post-natal depression alone.”

She asked the Prime Minister: “Why did the government reject almost every one of the 23 recommendations from the petitions committee on supporting new mums during this Covid-19 crisis?”

The Prime Minister told the MP that he was unaware of the matter but said he would look into it. This is the second time that Johnson has attended a session of the liaison committee, and the second time he has been unaware of a current policy issue.

At his first session with the committee in May, he showed he did not know about the ‘no recourse to public funds’ policy backed by Conservative governments – a condition that applies to migrants granted limited leave to remain in the UK.

3. Johnson was forced to admit the ‘Moonshot’ project tech is nonexistent…

The Prime Minister told the committee that the “science is almost there”, in relation to delivering a test that can return a result within 30 minutes and does not need to be sent to a laboratory for analysis, to enable his ‘Moonshot‘ plan.

He then admitted when pressed by committee members that “we are still some way off having those instant pregnancy-style liberating tests that tell you whether you’re infectious or not”.

Pressed later by the committee members on when this technology would be ready, Johnson could not commit to any timeframe but claimed instead that there are “people who make all sorts of claims about this technology”.

The Prime Minister added: “I can’t sit here today and say that we have such a pregnancy style test but I think the committee would agree that given the stakes and given the opportunity, it is right for the government to invest in such a project.”

4. Johnson was made to squirm over a last-minute resignation…

The UK government’s law officer for Scotland Lord Keen resigned this afternoon, shortly before the Prime Minister appeared in the committee, over the plans put forward by the Tories to break international law.

The Prime Minister refused to comment on the subject, telling members that it was still “to be resolved”. He added that “conversations on that matter are still continuing”.

Regardless of whether the matter has been ‘resolved’, Keen reportedly did not show up in the House of Lords to represent the government this afternoon and a government whip stood in for him instead.

5. The Prime Minister accused the EU of negotiating in bad faith…

On the Brexit negotiations, Johnson told the committee: “We had an opportunity for them [the EU] to lift this issue of third-country listings… Yet they have signally failed to do that and alas, as I have said, I don’t believe they are.”

As Labour MP and committee member Hilary Benn pointed out, this is contrary to what the Northern Ireland Secretary told the Northern Ireland select committee. Benn asked the Prime Minister to clarify the government’s view.

Benn pointed out that five predecessors of the Prime Minister, including two Tory Party leaders, and the attorney general who helped negotiate the Northern Ireland protocol have all advised him against breaking international law.

The government has claimed that the EU is threatening not to add the UK to a list of ‘third countries‘ that are approved for food imports. This is its defence of the internal market bill, which seeks to override the Northern Ireland protocol.

On breaking international law, Johnson said: “This is really about us as a country being able to ensure that our friends and partners don’t do something that people would think is unreasonable of extreme in the interpretation of the protocol.

“It is about ‘belt-and-bracing’. There are various situations that you could imagine it would important for us to protect the integrity of the UK – tariff barriers, blockades on food… What we’re trying to do is prevent that happening.”

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