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HENRY DEEDES on Boris Johnson’s performance at PMQs

For hair-tearing, home-schooling parents, it wasn’t quite a champagne moment, but it was at least cause to uncork a half-decent bottle of reserva.

Boris Johnson had just announced plans, barring any snags, to reopen schools in March. On top of that, he was putting aside a £300 million kitty to fund summer schools.

A whole summer without the kids! On second thoughts, perhaps it was an evening for a chilled glass of blanc de blancs.

Boris Johnson, pictured, had to face Sir Keir Starmer twice yesterday before fronting the Downing Street press conference 

Sir Keir Starmer, pictured, is self-isolating at home for the third time in four months after being pinged by the NHS Test and Trace App

Sir Keir Starmer, pictured, is self-isolating at home for the third time in four months after being pinged by the NHS Test and Trace App

For the second day running, the Prime Minister was hosting the Downing Street press conference, cutting a perkier prospect than the sackcloth-and-ashes figure we saw the previous night.

He looked peppier, less shell-shocked. The pinkness had returned to his gills. His only flash of irritation came when a reporter mentioned the dreaded Dominic Cummings, at which Boris’s eyeballs did a theatrical 360 degrees.

Like Banquo – murdered by his former friend Macbeth – I fear the Cummings spectre looks likely to haunt Downing Street corridors for a while yet.

Joining Boris was Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Jonathan Van Tam, the one who looks as cuddly as a cactus but is actually rather a sweetie. JVT was sporting a neatly shaved scalp and thankfully had given the extended metaphors the night off. Boris at one point called him James. Oh well. It’s been a long week.

Earlier the PM endured a double dose of Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons, first at PMQs, then during a ministerial statement. Labour’s Sir Keir is self-isolating for the third time in four months – in an Ikea showroom, apparently – after being pinged by the Government’s Test and Trace gadget. I trust Matt Hancock’s not doing it on purpose.

The ex-prosecutor repeatedly asked why our death toll was the highest in Europe. Boris said there would be plenty of time for all that but now really wasn’t the moment. No, insisted Sir Keir. The question would be answered NOW.

Here was Starmer at his most unctuously opportunistic. A Bryclreemed finger-pointer, wreathed in lawyerly righteousness. At one point he attacked the Government for ignoring scientific advice. Moments later, he was ordering Boris to ignore those same scientists and promote teachers up the vaccine batting order.

Boris Johnson, pictured, also fronted last night's press conference at Number 10 where he announced schools might reopen on March 8, 2021

Boris Johnson, pictured, also fronted last night’s press conference at Number 10 where he announced schools might reopen on March 8, 2021

Boris accused Sir Keir of trying to score political points. Sir Keir’s face almost popped out of the screen. ‘Me? Never!’

An hour later, the pair were back at it when Boris returned to announce plans to protect the UK from these nasty new foreign strains of the virus. We learned that those flying in from Covid hot zones would be frog-marched off to hotels to quarantine for ten days.

Which hostelries wasn’t disclosed, but I suspect our guests won’t be sipping dry martinis in the Ritz. Most likely they’ll be holed up somewhere boasting ‘tea-making facilities’ and singing the virtues of the Corby trouser press available in the vestibule.

Up flashed Sir Keir’s face on the TVs. Reminded me of one of those bossy flight-safety instruction videos you get before take-off. He was still intent on raking over the coals of the past 12 months. For what seemed an age, he railed at the Government for failing to learn from its mistakes. On and on he droned. A dinner party bore who’d stayed well beyond their welcome. Sir Lindsay Hoyle eventually hopped up to let Sir Keir know he’d delighted us enough.

Nor did we hear little by way of constructiveness from Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey. He was cross Boris still hadn’t committed to a date for an inquiry into the pandemic. Davey proudly keeps boasting he’s been promised one.

‘Will he at least tell the country that he will launch this inquiry,’ he asked, voice slow and patronising as a Jackanory presenter.

Oh, for heaven’s sake. In 12 months, more than 100,000 have perished and the economy has been decimated while the public has faced the greatest impingement on its civil liberties since Oliver Cromwell.

Of course there’s going to be a ruddy enquiry, Sir Edward. We’re not China. Please, let’s just get on with defeating the virus.


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