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Commons Confidential: Johnson’s showboat

Your weekly dose of gossip from around Westminster. 

By Kevin Maguire

The Queen is not amused. An impeccable authority informed me Betty was furious the PM hijacked her hubby’s death to launch his Brexit Britain £200m royal yacht as HMS Prince Philip by piping a cabinet minister to brief the media during the two-week official mourning period. One courtier whispered that Her Maj, who would dearly love a Britannia II but is a stickler for formality and fears a public backlash, voiced her displeasure to Johnson during a weekly audience. What is it about Tory plastic toffs? David Cameron embarrassed the Queen by bragging to then New York mayor Michael Bloomberg that she “purred down the line” over Scotland’s decision to remain in her United Kingdom in 2014. No 10 spinners insist Buckingham Palace is thrilled with Johnson’s showboat. Not so.

[See also: Labour is too weak to win and too strong to die]

Downing Street is battening down the hatches for the next Dominic Cummings salvo, with No 10 fearing it could hole HMS Boris. The word in Westminster is Desperate Dom is threatening to reveal Johnson’s reaction to Jo Cox’s assassination by a far-right terrorist a week before the EU referendum. Some Brexit supporters feared at the time that the Labour MP’s murder would scupper Leave’s nationalistic project. There is talk of text messages and emails. Cummings’s appearance before a Commons joint committee on 26 May to discuss the government’s pandemic response will be a popcorn moment. I hear a number of publishers are offering big money for the loose cannon to write a book.

[See also: What does Laurence Fox really want?]

Johnson’s cash-for-curtains isolation was detectable in Treasury minister Kemi Badenoch’s reply to Sunderland pocket battleship and shadow minister Bridget Phillipson, who asked who paid for Rishi Sunak’s home furnishings. “The Chancellor of the Exchequer redecorated the No 10 Downing Street flat last year,” answered Badenoch. “It was paid upfront and entirely at his own expense. No request was made to HM Treasury.” That unnecessary “upfront” intensifies pressure on Johnson to reveal who initially picked up his refurb bill. Ambitious squillionaire Sunak has a financial upper hand over the twice-divorced new dad he is eager to supplant.

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[See also: Boris Johnson is no “man of the people” but a self-serving con artist]

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The PM’s office struggled to contact Right-whinge think tank Politeia to have Johnson’s mobile scrubbed from a 2006 press release after Popbitch revealed it was online. I checked a 2005 BBC political directory and it had the number too. If only I’d realised before the PM received a new phone.

“I’ve reread all the Daily Mail articles about the Prime Minister and alleged sleaze,” remarked a Tory MP, “and doesn’t Michael Gove come out of them well?” What could he be suggesting…

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) at the Daily Mirror

This article appears in the 05 May 2021 issue of the New Statesman, If not now, when?