WE’RE barely two minutes in to this week’s PMQs and Boris Johnson has already told a lie. In response to a plea from Andy Slaughter to think again about ripping up the Covid rules on Monday, he asserts that if the Labour MP had got his way in June 2016, “we would not have achieved the fastest vaccine rollout of any European country.”
It’s entirely false to claim the vaccine rollout is a Brexit dividend – as the UK could have taken exactly the same route as a member of the EU – but it’s certainly a convenient way to dodge questions about why England, having “taken back control” from the EU, is now happy to let Covid-19 run rampant.
Of course, it won’t be the government’s fault when that happens – the public will be to blame for making the wrong choices.
Boris Johnson is also very clear that his government isn’t responsible for the appalling torrents of racial abuse directed at black England footballers at the weekend following their team’s defeat in the Euro 2020 final. And to be fair, who could possibly have predicted that senior politicians opposing anti-racism protests would embolden racists?
The good news is that the football banning regime is to be strengthened so that people who direct racist abuse at footballers will be shut out of matches. The astonishing news is that this wasn’t already the case, but it’s well seen the Prime Minister is being specific with his language here. We wouldn’t want to see a blanket ban on racists at the football, would we? He’s hoping to get plenty more wear out of that England top.
Does he regret failing to condemn those who booed the England players for taking the knee? Hell no – he’s more than happy to stoke the flames, then act the hero by phoning 999 when the fire is out of control. He arranged a special meeting with social media companies about getting “hate and racism off their platforms”, threatening them with financial penalties if they don’t act. Talk is cheap, and yet last month the Prime Minister couldn’t spare a minute to condemn those jeering their own team’s players.
Bizarrely, when trying to hammer home his points about “taking practical steps to fight racism”, he assures the House that he will use the threat of more legislation, “just as we used the threat of legislation to stop the European Super League”. What? Why is he throwing that in? Is it a sop to any racist football fans watching, who might need a reminder that he’s on their side when it really matters?
“Football’s a game, racism isn’t,” shoots back Starmer, building up to his snappy summary: “far from giving racism the red card, the Prime Minister gave it the green light.” Johnson simply waves away the accusation.
However, the Labour leader turns out to be merely the support act for Ian Blackford. Confronted with the fact that he once referred to Commonwealth citizens as “flag-waving piccaninnies” and to African people’s “watermelon smiles”, the Prime Minister laughably claims “you can take things out of context.” Presumably the social media companies he’s threatening with stiff penalties will be able to fall back on exactly the same line, especially when it comes to the policing of emoji use. Someone needs to inform Johnson that not every racist person is stupid enough to spell out their racist opinions in a Daily Telegraph column, which can be easily consulted should anyone seek to clarify the context.
But hey, some of Johnson’s best Cabinet members are ethnic minorities and if anyone knows about racism it’s Priti Patel. She’s done her best to recruit more black and ethnic minority police officers, he tells us. It’s win-win for her, I suppose. The more racism her government stokes, the more she can smirk about “cracking down” on the tiny minority who will ever face prosecution for their behaviour.
Johnson has the audacity to tell Blackford that his party that represents “hope and opportunity”. He’s right, of course … if he means the opportunity to be racist and the realistic hope of facing no sanctions whatsoever.