This evening Boris Johnson used a video call to address Conservative MPs following unease over No. 10’s Brexit tactics. With a Tory backlash growing over the plan to break international law and rewrite parts of the withdrawal agreement relating to the Northern Ireland protocol, the Prime Minister sought to convince MPs of the necessity of the measures. Rather than U-turn or suggest a new path, Johnson used the call to explain his government’s thinking.
However, it wasn’t exactly a smooth outing. MPs experienced difficulty logging on after the cap for the call was initially put at 100 people – before it was eventually fixed. Once in, Johnson told MPs there would be no Q&A suggesting MPs should instead put their questions to chief Brexit negotiator David Frost. In his remarks, Johnson asked MPs to listen to what he said rather than many of the reports in the media. He said the Internal Market Bill was ‘necessary to stop a foreign power from breaking up our country’. He said it was a ‘no-brainer’ for protecting the economic and political integrity of the UK. He also referred to some of the parts of what the UK intends to override as EU legacy law – and spoke of his hopes for a Canada-style deal.
Johnson’s message was not helped, however, by the fact the line went down in No. 10 about halfway through the call. At that point – with the host gone – MPs found themselves able to unmute themselves. Former European Research Group chair Steve Baker offered to takeover – only for former prime minister Theresa May to chip in and suggest that wouldn’t be a great idea. Michael Fabricant took the opportunity to sing ‘rule Britannia’.
Even though there was no Q&A, there were signs of discontent among MPs. During the unintended interval when Johnson was offline, one MP asked whether they could hear from Justice Secretary Robert Buckland on the legal argument. At which point one attendee on the call says Theresa May responded by suggesting he probably wouldn’t want to give a legal justification.
When Johnson came back onto the call, he attempted to end the conversation on a jovial note. He reiterated his pledge to deliver high quality broadband across the country where it’s needed – starting with No. 10. However, on coming off the call, several MPs remarked that rather than soothe them the episode had actually increased their irritation with the current operation.
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