Four things we learned from this week’s PMQs

The Conservatives are struggling to own the narrative on climate change. 

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

The Tories are struggling to own the narrative on the environment 

Climate, as it often has been at PMQs under Boris Johnson, was high on the agenda this afternoon. Jeremy Corbyn wasted no time in highlighting the fiasco over COP26, the UN climate change conference whose president Claire Perry, a former Tory energy minister, was sacked this week — and is yet to be replaced, despite approaches to William Hague and David Cameron. 

As usual, the Prime Minister insisted that the UK was a “world leader” on climate and had met its environmental targets, including cutting carbon emissions by 42 per cent since 1990, an achievement Johnson chalked up to “free market dynamism”. 

Those claims, however, rang rather hollow given the events of this week — which itself illustrates the limits of any Tory drive to own the narrative on the environment. 

On Scottish independence, the SNP knows more than one tune 

Uncharacteristically, the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford did not major on Scottish independence today — instead choosing to attack Johnson as a Trumpian isolationist. 

His second question did not mention Brexit explicitly either — instead asking for government support of an SNP bill to protect the NHS from privatisation under the terms of post-Brexit free trade deals. 

Of course, the inevitable denials from No. 10 — not to mention the substance of the questions — serve to illustrate the SNP’s values-based arguments for independence. But today was a reminder that it can make those arguments without recourse to procedural wrangling. 

Regional transport is the government’s big test 

Boris Johnson gave enthusiastic pledges of support to three contributions bemoaning poor infrastructure and transport links in the nations and regions: Mark Logan, the new Tory MP for Bolton North East, asked for a direct tram link to Manchester, while Plaid Cymru’s Hwyel Williams (Arfon), complained of poor bus links across North Wales, as did Alexander Stafford, the new Conservative member for Rother Valley. 

Johnson pledged to deal with both. His government will be judged on whether it has done so by 2024. 

Huawei isn’t going away

Two Conservative veterans — Damian Green and David Davis — rose to criticise the government’s decision to grant Chinese telecoms giant Huawei access to the UK’s 5G network. 

With the government due to legislate for the decision in the near future, contributions such as these spell danger.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.