PMQs Review: The one with the vanishing border
PUBLISHED: 13:55 01 July 2020 | UPDATED: 14:13 01 July 2020
During a PMQs largely devoid of action, we at least got one big announcement: there is no border between England and Scotland
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Well, OK, technically today’s session of prime minister’s questions did throw up one genuine news line: that people with British National Overseas status from Hong Kong are to get limited leave to remain in the UK.
But what genuinely jumped off the page was the prime minister casually dispensing with 12 centuries of geopolitical reality in a throwaway answer to a lazy question from a pliant MP.
Andrew Bowie (Con, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine), an obscure backbencher, rose to ask if the PM shared his “anger” at Nicola Sturgeon not ruling out introducing quarantining or screening for travellers coming from England if infection rates rose south of the border. Johnson described any such move as “astonishing and shameful” before laying out, to Tory cheers: “There is no such thing as a border between England and Scotland.”
There definitely is - I’ve seen it. There are signs on both sides and everything. It runs for 96 miles between Marshall Meadows Bay and the Solway Firth. But then this administration has demonstrated throughout this epidemic that devolution in 1997 pretty much passed it by.
And if that curious brush-off of the UK’s political make-up seems an odd way to nose off a review it’s because this was an otherwise largely forgettable session of PMQs, a 0-0 draw.
Keir Starmer asked “why was the government so slow to act” to implement a lockdown in Leicester after it knew of a spike in virus cases as early as June 18. Johnson, as ever, and in a sort-of nod to the Two Ronnies’ Mastermind sketch, answered not the question he’d been asked but the one he wished he had. Claiming that the government had “acted decisively” and “put on the breaks” in Leicester, he said: Unfortunately in Leicester, it did not prove possible to get the results that we have seen elsewhere so on Monday we took the decision, which I hope the right honourable gentleman approves of, to go into lockdown in Leicester.” Of course Starmer approved - his question was why it didn’t happen two weeks ago.
Starmer said that the PM “can’t just bat away challenge” and pointed out that, when the MP for Hove asked last week how seaside towns could be expected to cope with the likely influx of visitors to beaches and parks during the hot weather he had replied “show some guts”. “Two days later Bournemouth beach was closed with 500,000 visitors, a major incident was declared,” said Starmer “Does the prime minister now regret being so flippant?”.
Johnson’s nostrils flared and his voice raised. He was “absolutely clear that as we go forward with our plan, our cautious plan for opening up the economy, it is very, very important that people who do represent seaside communities, places where UK tourists will want to go, should be as welcoming as they can possibly be”. Hmmm.
Starmer also asked about Johnson’s economic speech yesterday, highlighting job losses at Airbus, easyJet and others, adding: “There was nothing in the prime minister’s speech for the 3.2m people in hospitality or the 2.9m in retail. Johnson once again went on about Starmer not calling for children to go back to schools - despite the fact that, due to his own education secretary’s crass mismanagement, they largely can’t - and proudly pulled out a new slogan. “We’re the builders, they’re the blockers. We’re the doers, they’re the ditherers. We’re going to get on with it and take this country forward,” he said, this apparently happily substituting for policy.
Finally, a number of MPs across parties - including Tory Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster), whose constituency takes in the capital’s theatre district - called on the PM to help reopen the creative industries. Johnson wasn’t interested.
“This is quite a theme,” he yawned at one point, later moaning: “The House is speaking with pretty much one voice this morning.” He then proposed doing pretty much nothing. People in the creative industries, of course, largely don’t vote Tory.
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