PMQs Review: The one with hesitation, deviation and repetition

Boris Johnson speaking at prime minister's questions in the House of Commons (Pic: Parliament)

Boris Johnson speaking at prime minister's questions in the House of Commons (Pic: Parliament) - Credit: Parliament

The last PMQs with the UK still in the EU was another dispiriting walk in the park for Boris Johnson

"Mr Speaker, can we take just a minute to remember Nicholas Parsons?," asked Jeremy Corbyn. "In memory of Nicholas Parsons, I think we should all avoid hesitation, deviation, or repetition in this House," said Boris Johnson.

Yes, the spirit of the late Nicholas Parsons loomed over the early stages of this week's prime minister's questions (Parsons was a Lib Dem supporter, incidentally, and even in death his was once again the party's only presence in the newly-truncated PMQs).

Fat chance of avoiding any of the panel game's pitfalls, though, not in this arena. For Corbyn, it was deviation. There was much on which to torment Johnson - yesterday's announcement on Huawei, say, which puts him at odds with not only the US administration but many of his own backbenchers. Or HS2. But no, continuing his greatest hits tour - and, at risk of my own repetition WHY IS HE STILL THERE - he pulled out Palestine.

True, he began on the environment with a couple of questions easily batted away by Johnson, but it was only once he got to Palestine that one sensed he was truly alive. This is the stuff, he must have thought, in his mind once again above an Islington pub preaching to a crowd of seven. Why did I waste the last four years pretending to be interested in Brexit?

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President Trump's - or rather, his rictus-grinning son-in-law's - plan "will annex Palestinian territory, lock in illegal Israeli colonisation, transfer Palestinian citizens of Israel and deny Palestinian people their fundamental rights," said Corbyn.

"When the government meets with the US secretary of state later today, will he make it clear that the British government will stand for a genuine, internationally-backed peace plan rather than this stuff proposed by Trump yesterday?"

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Mr Johnson said the Israel-Palestinian issue had "bedevilled the world for decades", adding: "No peace plan is perfect but this has the merit of a two-state solution, it is a two-state solution, it would ensure that Jerusalem is both the capital of Israel and of the Palestinian people."

Mr Corbyn said he had has the greatest respect for Mahmoud Abbas and those in the Palestinian Authority, adding: "I've met them many times." Many in the Commons laughed. "Thank God he's going," yelled one MP, and it was wasn't clear from which side.

The repetition came from the Tory backbenches whose ludicrously obsequious questions to Johnson, just weeks into this Parliament, are already chiselling away frenziedly at what remains of your correspondent's will to live.

There's something pathetic about the new Tory intake's attempts to ingratiate themselves to the PM with fawning appeals to his ego, but Andrea Jenkyns - a particularly doltish Brexiteer who took Ed Balls' seat - has less excuse than most, having been an MP for four years.

"Prime minister, up in Yorkshire, in your Conservative Brexit heartlands, we are celebrating us leaving the EU on Friday with a big Brexit bash," she said. "I wish to congratulate the prime minister on achieving us leaving the EU when so many deemed it impossible. Now does he agree with me that this is an opportunity for a new chapter for our great country when we will finally control our laws, our borders and our money and become a truly global trading nation?". And guess what? He did agree! And with that everybody was 30 seconds closer to death.

Finally, Siobhan Baillie, new Conservative MP for Stroud, rose to tell the House that this Sunday is World Wetlands Day and invited the prime minister to visit Slimbridge Wetlands Centre and its "famous flamboyance of flamingos".

"I look forward to seeing her famous flamboyant flamingos at the earliest opportunity," Johnson told the young Tory. And on that, at least, there was absolutely no hesitation.

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