Labour MPs grill Johnson during appearance in front of liaison committee

Katie Neame

Labour MPs have grilled Boris Johnson during his appearance in front of the liaison committee of select committee chairs amid reports of cabinet ministers mobilising to oust the Prime Minister.

Darren Jones told Johnson during today’s session: “This isn’t funny. It’s not a game. People are struggling across the country. It’s not brave for you to carry on doing this. I think in my view you’re hurting the country, Prime Minister. Just on a very human level, surely you must note that it’s in the country’s interest for you to leave now.”

The business committee chair opened his questioning by asking Johnson how his week is going. The Prime Minister responded: “Terrific… Like many others.”

Jones said: “You’ve often said, and your supporters have often said, that you’ve got all the big calls right as Prime Minister. But actually on tax, on debt, on growth, on pay, things have been getting worse, not better. 14 million people, I understand, voted for you in 2019 – you’ve let them down, haven’t you?”

Discussing the sexual misconduct allegations made against Chris Pincher, Chris Bryant asked the Prime Minister if he had been told about any similar allegations made against other government ministers, to which Johnson replied: “It is all too possible that people have said things to me about any number of people.”

The Labour MP and standards committee chair said: “It seems extraordinary that you wouldn’t know that there are allegations outstanding against a couple of your government ministers, of sexual impropriety such that they might constitute potentially criminal offences.”

The Prime Minister did not deny that he had said “all the sex pests are supporting me”, telling Bryant: “I don’t remember saying those words, but people ascribe all sorts of things to me.” Asked whether he had described Pincher as “handsy”, Johnson said: “That’s not a word I use.”

Bryant also asked if Johnson had said the former deputy chief whip was “Pincher by name and pincher by nature”. The Prime Minister said: “I’m not going to get into some trivialising discussion of what I may or may not have said.”

Bryant argued: “The allegation is that you have trivialised this issue. You’ve not even remembered it. Perhaps because he’s a useful ally to you. And the point is that then you appointed somebody who you believed to be a sex pest in a position of power and authority over other people in parliament.”

Bryant asked the Prime Minister if it was right for Tory whip Sarah Dines to ask Pincher’s alleged victim if he was gay and whether that was “victim-shaming.” He said to Johnson: “Do you not understand why this is problematic? Because it means that being gay for some reason or other makes you sort of asking for it.”

Bryant quoted the Prime Minister’s words about Pincher back to him: “He wasn’t going to learn any lessons, and he wasn’t going to change,” adding: “That’s true about you, isn’t it? You’re not going to learn any lessons and you’re going to change, you’re not capable of changing.”

“This is all about you in the end. The reason these things happen is because of you. He took liberties because he knows that you take liberties and get away it and allow other people to get away with taking liberties,” he concluded.

Fellow Labour MP Meg Hillier asked the Prime Minister to tell the committee what 148 and 32 add up to (the total number of MPs who voted against Johnson in last month’s confidence vote and the number of government resignations that had so far taken place). She told Johnson: “It’s not looking very good is it?”

“Without the support of your party, you cannot govern this country responsibly or well. Whatever our political disagreements, I have respect for the office of Prime Minister, but I’m afraid I’ve completely lost respect for you and your capability to run this country,” the public accounts committee chair added.

Following Hillier’s question, Jones told the Prime Minister: “It’s been reported that there is a delegation of your cabinet colleagues waiting in Downing Street, including the chief whip, the Transport Secretary and your new Chancellor, waiting to tell you when you finish here today that’s it’s time for you to go.”

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