London: Just after 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon, Boris Johnson could briefly tell himself that something was finally going well — he was holding his own against his Labour opponent Keir Starmer in a debate in Parliament. But it didn’t last.
After a bump in his car, a humiliating policy U-turn, and a row over “wasting” nearly 1 million pounds on re-painting his plane, the past day and a half is one that the British leader will want to forget.
Johnson needed a lucky break. He has been on the ropes over his handling of different aspects of the coronavirus crisis and members of his own team have started to lose faith. The past 24 hours are unlikely to calm Tory nerves.
On Tuesday afternoon, political pressure became intolerable for Johnson as a result of a campaign from a 22-year-old soccer star, who wanted the government to fund meals for poor children during the summer school holidays. Starmer had challenged the premier on the issue the previous week and was able to gloat about Johnson’s “U-turn” when the pair met in the Commons on Wednesday.
The prime minister’s response to Starmer was to go on the offensive, attacking the Labour leader for failing to encourage parents to take children back to school now that it is safe to do so. The tactic seemed to be working and Starmer did not land a knockout blow in the debate.
But Johnson finished the session with a gaffe. He mistook Liberal Democrat MP and former Cabinet minister Alistair Carmichael for a member of the Scottish National Party. Carmichael, who knows that prime ministers go into the session armed with a briefing on every MP who’s asking a question, quipped: “It makes me wonder how he might cope with the nuclear codes.”
After the Parliamentary question time, Johnson’s next appointment was with senior officials from the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee. There he was likely to have been taken to task over the school meals U-turn as well as other slips that have riled his members of Parliament.
As Johnson went in to see the 1922 Committee, his office began briefing reporters on the upgrade that his official jet was getting.
Since 2016, the government has used a Royal Air Force A330 Voyager to transport prime ministers around the world. Because this plane doubles as an air-to-air refueling tanker for fighter jets, it used to be painted in a nondescript gray, which suits the military, but looks unimpressive on the tarmac next to Air Force One.
Johnson’s spokesman James Slack explained the Voyager is now being repainted red, white and blue, “in line with many other leaders’ planes.”
Slack was asked if it was going to be expensive. “We expect the cost to be around 900,000 pounds ($1.1 million),” he said. “That incorporates the cost of creating a design that will promote the U.K. around the world without compromising the plane’s vital military role.”
Then fate dealt the prime minister a final, blunt metaphor for his difficult day.
As his motorcade moved away from Parliament, a protester jumped in front, his driver braked, but the driver of the support car behind was caught out, and hit the back of the prime minister’s vehicle. No one was injured, Johnson’s office said. The prime minister will hope that his luck improves soon.-Bloomberg