Five things we learned from this week’s PMQs

Boris Johnson wants you to know that he isn’t Donald Trump, and the Conservatives face a fight over defence spending.

 
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The Tories face a fight over defence spending

Julian Lewis, one of the more vinegary backbenchers on the government side of the Commons, opened the session with an appeal to the Prime Minister to spend big on the armed forces in next month’s budget. 

Johnson answered in the affirmative — albeit without making the sort of concrete commitment that Lewis, and many backbenchers like him — will have wanted. Military spending is but one of an increasing number of policy issues in which Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s senior adviser, is at odds with Tory opinion. 

Which way will Johnson go? If this week’s decision on HS2 is anything to go by, he may end up disappointing both. 

New MPs are making an impact

Jeremy Corbyn — who for the second consecutive week used his six questions to attack the government on a series of separate topical issues — began by asking Johnson to justify the deportation of 50 people, many of them lifelong British residents imprisoned for relatively minor offences, to Jamaica. 

Last week it was the baby of the House, Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome, who raised the same issue. In the days since, the story has provoked a series of grim headlines for the government and even moved Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, who is by no means trigger happy when it comes to urgent questions, to drag Home Office ministers to the despatch box. 

While Whittome has attracted her fair share of criticism since arriving at Westminster, the impact her question last week has had suggests she will continue to make trouble for the government on one of its stickiest wickets — immigration. 

Boris Johnson wants you to know that he is not Donald Trump

Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the Prime Minister’s big speech on trade and Brexit last week was its explicit criticism of Donald Trump. The frequency with which Johnson is derided as a British equivalent means the PM has a clear incentive to disabuse voters of this notion. 

Another fight was picked this afternoon. Pressed by Corbyn on Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s response to the Harry Dunn affair, Johnson stressed that the government was still committed to fighting for the extradition of CIA operative Anne Sacoolas — setting it on a collision course with Washington. 

HS2 isn’t the railway that Downing Street wants to talk about 

Damien Moore, the Tory MP for Southport, rose midway through the session to make a request of a sort we’ll be hearing much more of over the coming months: would the Prime Minister commit to reopening the direct rail link between his Merseyside constituency and Preston shut in the Beeching cuts?

Johnson gave an encouraging reply, as Moore — a close ally of Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, will have expected. No enthusiast for HS2, Shapps believes that reopening Beeching lines is the real answer to the crisis of capacity in Britain’s railways. And, unlike the controversial new line, rejuvenating old ones is a project that a Tory party committed to redressing regional imbalances in infrastructure provision can get behind in near unanimity.

Later, Martin Vickers, the Tory MP for Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire, offered up a catalogue of similar requests. The voice of Cleethorpes, Johnson pledged, had been heard. His election prospects in 2024 will depend on just how sincerely those words are meant. 

New Conservative MPs haven’t forgotten how they got here

Towards the end of the half-hour, Jacob Young, the new Tory MP for Redcar on Teesside, asked the Prime Minister just when he might see new police officers on the streets of his constituency to tackle knife crime — a promise that was as central to the Conservative election campaign as getting Brexit done. 

As is the case on infrastructure, Tory MPs are keenly aware that they must make good on their promises to keep the red wall blue.

Patrick Maguire was political correspondent at the New Statesman.

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