Johnson wriggles out of Cummings questions with plea to ‘move on’

Prime minister urges Commons liaison committee to ‘focus on the next steps’

Boris Johnson’s government is seizing on every opportunity for distraction from the Dominic Cummings controversy. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/Downing Street

Boris Johnson’s government is seizing on every opportunity for distraction from the Dominic Cummings controversy. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/Downing Street

 

In the absence of prime minister’s questions because parliament is in recess, Boris Johnson’s appearance before the Commons liaison committee was the best chance MPs would have to grill him about Dominic Cummings.

But the temptation to play to the gallery proved too much for most of the members and while they waffled, he weaselled and wriggled out of answering their questions.

An exception was Labour’s Meg Hillier, who asked a series of short, sharp questions about whether Johnson had seen evidence showing that Cummings’s version of events was true. When Johnson at first tried to avoid giving an answer, Hillier pressed him.

“It’s a simple question. Did you or did you not see the evidence?” she said.

“If it pleases you then yes,” he said.

Johnson said he would not release the evidence to the public, however, or even to cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill to investigate.

“I think it would be much better if we could now move on and focus on the next steps,” he said.

More calls from Conservative MPs for Cummings to go mean that many of their constituents are not ready to move on from the anger and humiliation they feel on account of his actions in breach of the lockdown. But if the backbench rebellion has not ended, it is not gathering pace either and the government is seizing on every opportunity for distraction.

The BBC delighted its enemies in the Conservative Party by reprimanding Emily Maitlis for failing to show due impartiality in an opening monologue on Newsnight on Tuesday that criticised Cummings for breaking the rules and the prime minister for backing him.

“He made those who struggled to keep to the rules feel like fools, and has allowed many more to assume they can flout them,” she said.

Ignorance

The liaison committee may have left Johnson mostly unscathed over the Cummings affair but questions about other aspects of the coronavirus epidemic exposed his matchless ignorance about his own government’s policies. The most jaw-dropping moment came when Stephen Timms asked him about a Pakistani couple in his constituency who were destitute because their immigration status stipulated that they should have no recourse to public funds.

“Why aren’t they eligible for universal credit or employment support allowance or any of the other...?” Johnson asked before Timms generously cut him off to explain to the prime minister the workings of the state he governs. 

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