What we learned from this week's PMQs

Boris Johnson expects everyone to obey the law, and the other things we learned at this week's Prime Minister's Questions.

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Boris Johnson "expects everybody to obey the law"

After yesterday's extraordinary admission from Brandon Lewis that the UK will "break international law" with its new Internal Market Bill, Boris Johnson confirmed that he expects everyone in this country to obey the law. He did, however, go on in later comments to defend the new legislation, which his government is still bringing to the House of Commons.

Keir Starmer is steering clear of Brexit

The Labour leader chose to steer clear of Brexit, an issue that remains politically sensitive for the Labour Party. Instead, Starmer's strategy was clear: to reflect the concerns of ordinary people and families back to the Prime Minister, this time over problems with the test and trace system. In a series of questions reminiscent of Jeremy Corbyn's first appearances at PMQs, Starmer relayed multiple accounts of families having to travel hundreds of miles and wait days to access coronavirus tests, across his six allocated questions. In response...

Boris Johnson blamed the public for a lack of testing capacity

The Prime Minister failed to give a clear answer as to how problems with testing capacity are being resolved, but instead fell back on two attack lines. His first was to depend on national affection and loyalty to the NHS with repeated reference to the "heroic" efforts of those working on NHS Test and Trace, accusing Keir Starmer of "attacking" the "people doing their level best to keep us safe". It is worth bearing in mind that, despite the name, NHS Test and Trace is conducted by private companies, and has nothing to do with the NHS. 

His second response was to join Matt Hancock in blaming members of the public for the shortage in testing capacity, by putting the problem down to people accessing tests when they do not have symptoms. Both contradict comments from the director of NHS Test and Trace, Sarah-Jane Marsh, who issued an apology yesterday following complaints by people who have been asked to travel hundreds of miles for a test. She blamed a “critical pinch-point” in laboratory processing for problems meeting growing demand.

Boris Johnson is mastering the art of the final reply

It is often said that the prime minister should always at least "draw" at PMQs, because he or she has the last word against the leader of the opposition. After what was widely acknowledged to be a weak performance last week, Boris Johnson made full use of his final reply today to highlight Starmer's silence over Brexit, to make an unchallenged defence of the Internal Market Bill, and to reiterate his earlier criticisms of the Labour leader "carping from the sidelines" to some cheers from his backbenchers. He may not always "win" PMQs with this approach, but if he can master the final reply and secure a strong clip for social media, he is unlikely to truly "lose" an exchange again. 

Boris Johnson has little new to say on the genocide of the Uighur population in China

A powerful question from Labour's Siobhain McDonagh as to what the government is tangibly doing "to take action to stop the ethnic cleansing of the Uighur people in China", the Prime Minister had little to say. He emphasised that the government has raised concerns directly with the Chinese and will continue to do so in international fora such as the UN and G20. After McDonagh's forceful question, it came across as rather weak.

The Speaker is angry 

The Speaker Lindsay Hoyle joined Conservative backbenchers in condemning the government for failing to make its announcement on changing coronavirus rules to the House of Commons yesterday, allowing for the new rules to be debated. "Total disregard for this chamber is not acceptable," Hoyle said, inviting Matt Hancock to come to the House to apologise. 

Ailbhe Rea is political correspondent at the New Statesman

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