HENRY DEEDES watches Boris Johnson as heat over sleaze row increases

He looked about as comfortable as a boy in a hand-knitted Guernsey sweater: HENRY DEEDES watches Boris Johnson as the heat over sleaze row increases

They came at him like a pack of hungry dogs at feeding time.

Yap, yap yap. Nip, nip, nip. Once Her Majesty’s Press corps get a whiff of scandal, not even the deftest of decoys can throw them off the scent.

The pack was pummelling away hard at the Prime Minister about the stench of sleaze emanating from Westminster. Boris stuttered and bumbled, shifting his bodyweight this way and that.

We were back at the Cop26 summit in Glasgow, ostensibly to talk about the fight against climate change. More specifically, how Britain was leading the way while less responsible nations still weren’t doing their bit.

Instead, here was the PM having to insist in front of a worldwide audience that the UK was ‘not remotely a corrupt country’, but had a ‘very, very tough system of parliamentary democracy and scrutiny’. Over in Moscow, Vladimir Putin must have been taking a long slug of ice-cold Stolichnaya and chortling into his sturgeon eggs.

Twice, Boris was given an opportunity to apologise for the steaming mess he’d caused from the Owen Paterson affair. Twice, he declined. Instead, he endured a test of 22 minutes, in which he looked about as comfortable as a schoolboy in a hand-knitted Guernsey sweater. How much better it would have been if he’d just come to the Commons on Monday to face the brickbats.

Stuttering: The PM in Glasgow. The pack was pummelling away hard at the Prime Minister about the stench of sleaze emanating from Westminster, writes Henry Deedes

Each question began with a polite inquiry about the whole Cop business. That’s why we were there, after all. But those were a mere amuse-bouche before the nitty-gritty. Shades of Lieutenant Columbo tossing a few underarm lobs before going in for the kill. ‘Oh, just one more thing…’

ITV’s Robert Peston certainly makes for a passable TV gumshoe, does he not? Craggy hair – check. Bedraggled clothing – check. A faintly meandering manner capable of getting under even the coolest of cucumber’s fingernails – check, check, check. He wondered if the PM would be apologising after the Speaker had accused him of bringing the House into disrepute.

The PM waffled aimlessly. He was very down on those who ‘break the rules’, he said. He put his faith in Labour MP Chris Bryant’s standards committee to bring about reform. That’s the same one he’d pretty much expressed zero confidence in last week. 

Beth from Sky then had a go. She jutted out her lower jaw and flared her nostrils. Had there been a bludgeon nearby I do believe she might have aimed it at the PM’s forehead. She wondered about MPs ‘putting their jobs first’.

Did he think all his MPs had done that? This was a clear reference to ex-attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox who, as this newspaper discovered this week, trousered just north of nine hundred large ones during the pandemic for some extra-curricular legal work. Gadzooks. Who was the blighter representing – OJ Simpson?

Boris replaced the cap on his pen with a loud ‘click’. He shrugged his shoulders and waved his arms defensively. ‘I don’t want to comment on individual cases,’ he sighed. 

Twice, Boris was given an opportunity to apologise for the steaming mess he’d caused from the Owen Paterson affair. Twice, he declined. Instead, he endured a test of 22 minutes, in which he looked about as comfortable as a schoolboy in a hand-knitted Guernsey sweater

‘I’m very, very sorry’, he said. Certainly a first for the afternoon. ‘I’ve got to go and catch a climate-friendly means of transport back to London’

He insisted those not putting their constituents first should face ‘appropriate sanctions’. I’m no Russell Grant, but it sounded awfully like Sir Loudmouth may soon be taking the Chiltern Hundreds. That’s resigning, to all the non-political nerds out there.

One woman from The Daily Telegraph (of all places!) pressed again for an apology. And again, the PM gave a side-step worthy of rugby player Gareth Edwards. Even the foreign hacks were wading in.

Someone from the Agence France-Presse asked whether the PM was confident that his own standards would pass muster with any investigation. ‘All my declarations are in conformity within the rules’, he replied. He invited journalists to have a look. I’m sure the thought had probably occurred.

Moments later, Boris was yanking his face mask back on. ‘I’m very, very sorry’, he said. Certainly a first for the afternoon. ‘I’ve got to go and catch a climate-friendly means of transport back to London.’

No private jet this time, in other words. Oh dear. A warm G&T and a mouldy West Coast train line sarnie for sups by the sounds of it. And with that, whoosh! Off he pounded stage left, faster than a rabbit around a dog track.

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