It was the final PMQs before summer recess and it took the same familiar format of a ditch rather than a groove, dug by the PM himself.
Boris Johnson blustered, lied and tried to crack a joke or two. Sir Keir Starmer tried his best to extract some detail. Rinse and repeat. Shall we just fast forward to 2024?
Boris just had to flap through the half an hour or so at the despatch box before vanishing from the House until September. Surely the Russians would be gone by then? But then again were they even here? Who knows – not Boris, that’s for sure.
The Labour leader asked about the deep concerns emerging from the headline-grabbing Russia report. Johnson replied that there was no evidence of Russian interference – but that is because no one looked into it, even though the government was warned of the threat 18 months ago.
If I knew someone had burgled my house and I was told exactly who did it and they would definitely be coming back, multiple times, to nick the last of my belongings I would at least get one of those camera bells on my door (and let Amazon watch me instead) to prove it was them.
But the British government decided to leave front door ajar with the jewels in the hallway while they hid in the shed at the bottom of the garden.
But that, again, was all Jeremy Corbyn’s fault apparently. The PM said that during the Salisbury poisoning, Jezza was simply parroting a Kremlin line adding another lie for good measure and claiming that Sir Keir had not condemned the attack on the Skripals.
Within minutes of the end of the session Sir Keir had circulated a clip of himself on Question Time, doing just that.
Johnson also pointed furiously at Starmer telling him that Corbyn had been on Russia Today, failing to mention his own father has been on the state-owned TV station.
The PM had brazenly dismissed the threat that runs into the heart of government, his answers could have been read directly to him by Putin through an earpiece.
Keir wasn’t having it though, he told the PM that as the Director of Public Prosecutions he pushed the Alexander Litvinenko case and he worked on live investigations into Russia. Starmer told the PM “the Government has taken its eye off the ball, arguably it wasn’t even on the pitch.”
Caught in a mess of his own making Johnson (a familiar space) lashed out. What this is really all about is “Islington Remainers wanting to overturn the result of the Brexit referendum”. Note to readers – he used to live in Islington and was a Remainer, when it suited him.
Joking aside, this was just about the worst possible thing the prime minister could have said about the Russia report.
By claiming the findings were all about Brexit and dismissing it as a piece of Remainiac fan-fiction, Johnson ignored the true thrust of that report – which is that Russian oligarchs and elites have turned London into a giant laundromat for illicit money, enabling them to act with impunity.
That is not a hit on Johnson. It’s a stain on successive governments’ records. The Russia report gave us a chance at having a national conversation about the health of British democracy but instead Boris decided to turn it into a partisan jab, leaving it on life support. It was, honestly, utterly depressing.
Sat on report
So why had the PM “sat on the report for ten months?”, Sir Starmer demanded to know. After all Johnson had called an election in December while the report sat on his desk in full knowledge that Putin had been sticking his paws in.
The select committee couldn’t say if they had meddled in the EU referendum as nobody wanted to find that out. That potato was simply too hot, and of course they were busy making that oven ready Brexit deal…
Back in the USSR the PM did say there is no other country in the world (yeah, that nonsense again) with such a robust response towards Russia. Really? You can’t get less than zero, as that is what the report said the government did in relation to Moscow’s interference. Unless other countries are just WhatsApping the Kremlin all their password logins, it literally isn’t possible.
Johnson had a prepared ‘joke’ to see him home, he said Starmer has had more flip-flops than Bournemouth beach (recalling an image of a Covid-sharing cesspool the government failed to deal with).
However, the Labour Leader wasn’t having that he told Johnson that he is so lacking in principal that, when he was a columnist, he would write two versions of each story. Eventually publishing the one which was best for him, not the country.
This wasn’t a flip flop – it was a Doc Marten aimed at Johnson’s johnson, which to be fair could do with being as stunned as we are over his government’s negligence.