Boris Johnson claims Tory MPs will ‘coalesce in loyalty’ around his successor
The Prime Minister ran through what he perceived to be his greatest hits in office as he sought to bat away calls for him to resign immediately rather than wait until the end of the Conservative Party leadership contest on September 5.
Mr Johnson spoke at length about Brexit, support for Ukraine and his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic amid furious heckling from the Opposition benches.
In a hint at what is to come, Mr Johnson also told MPs he will have “more to say” about the events surrounding his downfall.
His comments came as he moved a motion of confidence in his Government, with a defeat on such a proposal almost certain to trigger a general election.
But that would require a significant number of Tory MPs to vote against it, or at least abstain, and the party appears more focused on choosing Mr Johnson’s successor.
The debate also offered the Prime Minister a chance to defend his record before MPs after the tumultuous events which led to his downfall, amid accusations of lying and rule-breaking.
Mr Johnson hailed his 2019 general election success and celebrated his Brexit record, telling MPs: “We got Brexit done and though the rejoiners and the revengers were left plotting and planning and biding their time – and I’ll have more to say about the events of the last few weeks and months in due course – we delivered on every single one of our promises.”
The Prime Minister turned to the Covid-19 pandemic, claiming: “A pandemic that was global, whose origins we do not fully understand but were nothing to do with the British people, and if anything the result of distant misbehaviour involving bats or pangolins, and whose spread was appallingly difficult to manage, and this Government never gave up through wave after wave.”
Mr Johnson praised the “resilience of the British people” in protecting the NHS, with one Labour MP heard shouting: “You partied in Downing Street.”
He also spoke about his flight in a Typhoon fighter jet last week, before adding on the Tory leadership: “After three dynamic and exhilarating years in the cockpit, we will find a new leader and we will coalesce in loyalty around him or her.
“And the vast twin Rolls-Royce engines of our Tory message, our Conservative values, will roar on – strong public services on the left, and a dynamic free market enterprise economy on the right, each boosting the other and developing trillions of pounds of thrust.
“The reason we keep winning is we’re the only party that understands the need for both. Whatever happens in this contest we will continue to fight for the lowest possible taxes and the lightest possible regulation.”
Labour former minister Kevin Brennan earlier said it was “highly unconventional” for Mr Johnson to put down a confidence motion in his own Government, adding: “Though I suppose he is an unconventional person, since only an unconventional man would want the opportunity to speak at his own funeral.”
Mr Johnson pondered whether it is true that he is “more popular on the streets of Kyiv right now than I am in Kensington”, but said this would be because of the UK’s decision to act early to send them weapons to counter the Russian invasion.
Mr Johnson also denied his departure from Downing Street will be the end of Brexit, claiming some people believe Labour and the “deep state will prevail in its plot to haul us back into alignment with the EU as a prelude to our eventual return”.
In his concluding remarks, the Prime Minister said: “This Government has fought some of the hardest yards in modern political history, we’ve had to take some of the bleakest decisions since the war and I believe we got the big calls right.
“And at the end of three years this country is visibly using its new-found independence to turbocharge our natural advantages as the best place in the world not just to live and to invest, but to bring up a family.
“And with a new and incontrovertible spirit of global leadership, I believe we can look to the future with a rock-solid confidence not just in what this Government has done, but in what it will do and will continue to do.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “The delusion is never ending. What a relief for the country that they finally got round to sacking him.
“And in many ways the chaos of the last fortnight is familiar. The third Tory leadership contest in six years. The latest bumper summer for graphic designers and brand managers. The latest parade of pretenders promising unfunded tax cuts.
“The latest set of ministerial jobs handed out on a wink and a shake in return for a nomination. And TV debates so embarrassing that even the contestants are pulling out.
“Every other year they switch out a failed prime minister.”