Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Johnson the statesman is working for open borders by sea and land

3 Feb

“Be the Unionist we need you to be,” Ian Paisley (DUP, Antrim North) exhorted the Prime Minister via video link.

Paisley lamented that “the Protocol has betrayed us and made us feel like foreigners in our own country”.

He added that “tea and sympathy will not cut the mustard” and asked the Prime Minister: “Will he be a man of his word?”

Boris Johnson has in the past assured anyone who expressed worry about a border down the Irish Sea that there would be no such border.

Today he declared: “We will do everything we need to do to ensure there is no barrier down the Irish Sea.”

He had earlier remarked, in response to a question from Claire Hanna (SDLP, Belfast South), “it was most regrettable that the EU should seem to cast doubt on the Good Friday Agreement, the principles of the peace process, by seeming to call for a border across the island of Ireland”.

In response to a question from Stephen Farry (Alliance, North Down) Johnson took the chance to reiterate that the EU’s behaviour was “most unfortunate”.

But for Johnson, the EU’s behaviour was far from unfortunate. He can now be the statesman who offers to work with everyone of goodwill to get rid of these wretched borders.

It is in this sense that his earlier statements on the subject are to be understood: he was expressing an admirable aspiration, not an accomplished fact; promising he would sort out the Irish Sea problem, not that he had already sorted it out.

How he enjoys being the constructive, enlightened statesman, who deprecates the recklessness of the European Commission.

But he also enjoys riling Sir Keir Starmer, to whom he attributed various statements which had the Labour leader protesting: “Complete nonsense. Don’t let the truth get in the way of a pre-prepared gag.”

“May I advise him to consult YouTube,” Johnson replied in his most statesmanlike manner.

Johnson took the chance to accuse Sir Keir of having wanted Britain to stay in the European Medicines Agency, to which the Labour leader angrily replied: “The Prime Minister knows I’ve never said that, from this Despatch Box or anywhere else, but the truth escapes him.”

Mark Francois (Con, Rayleigh and Wickford) rose on a point of order immediately after PMQs to point out that on 21st January 2017 Sir Keir had asked in the Commons why we would ever want to leave the European Medicines Agency.

An ambush, and a successful one. Supporters of the British nation suddenly have the upper hand, while those who supported the EU sound out of date; loyal to an ancien régime which cannot be revived; able only, once the lockdown comes to an end, to hold secret dinner parties in north London at which they raise a glass to the Queen over the water, Ursula von der Leyen.