Boris Johnson has never really known how to speak in the Commons chamber. He has tried to adjust his speaking style but without great success. And as I say in the magazine this week, despite his reputation for rhetoric he has never made a memorable speech in the House of Commons. But in his first appearance in the chamber as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson simply decided to speak there as he does elsewhere – and it worked. It left the Tory benches – which hadn’t been that enthusiastic at first – roaring for more.
In his opening statement, Boris Johnson was full of optimism. He talked of what this country could be like in 2050. The opportunities he envisioned for the UK were very Vote Leave, and they’d be familiar to any regular reader of Dominic Cummings’s blogs.
But, perhaps, most significant was what he said on Brexit. He repeated that a time limit on the backstop was not enough. He said that the UK negotiators were prepared to meet the EU ‘wherever, whenever’. Yet, he seemed to indicate that these talks would require the EU to signal a willingness to discuss alternatives to the backstop.
It was, though, in response to Jeremy Corbyn that Boris Johnson really came alive. He relished putting the boot into Corbyn and John McDonnell. He mocked McDonnell as the man sacked by Ken Livingstone for being ‘too left wing’. He attacked Corbyn for having being paid by Press TV, Iran’s propaganda channel, and for siding with ‘the Mullahs of Tehran’. He mocked Corbyn for saying Labour would campaign for Remain in a second referendum. He ended by saying that the Tories ‘are the party of the people. We are the party of people. We are the party of many, they are the party of the few. They will take this county backwards. We will take it forward’. I suspect that this will form the central plank of the Tories’ message at the next election.