The Commons Liaison Committee is the only one able to question the Prime Minister. It’s 37 members, including Labour, Tory and SNP MPs, will quiz Boris Johnson today after it was called to sit by its chairman Sir Bernard Jenkin last week.
WHY IS IT HAPPENING TODAY?
Jenkin said during the coronavirus crisis, the Tory leader had become “more personally accountable than usual” and this has caused a “centralisation of power”. This is why he called the sitting – however in the time since the sitting was announced, revelations have emerged over the conduct of Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings.
The controversial aide drove 260 miles from London to his parents’ Durham farm with his wife and son while sick with Covid-19 during the coronavirus lockdown. Since, dozens of Tory MPs have called for the adviser to leave his position but Johnson has rigorously defended Cummings’s over the news.
WHAT WILL THE MPS ASK JOHNSON ABOUT?
Definitely the Dominic Cummings story – this is a major political issue; and has resulted in approval ratings in the UK Government and Johnson himself to slump. A number of Tory MPs are fearful of the consequences of defending the adviser’s actions on the public health guidance the public follows, especially before the launch of the UK Government’s test and trace project. This will mean having to ask people who have no Covid-19 symptoms to self-isolate for 14 days if they’ve had face-to-face contact with a confirmed carrier of the virus. The self-isolation is a critical part of the scheme to slow the spread of the virus, and yesterday Matt Hancock said it is the public’s “civic duty” to comply with that instruction should they receive it.
However the coronavirus crisis in general will make up the bulk of the discussion, as it is why the meeting was called. There are many questions on PPE provision, testing capability and the delayed lockdown which MPs will likely want to direct towards the Tory leader. There’ also the fact that the UK now has the world’s highest death rate per capita in the whole world, and the second highest death toll in the world too. MPs of all parties will want answers on how this has been allowed to happen.
WHY IS IT JOHNSON’S FIRST TIME BEFORE THE COMMITTEE?
Johnson had been scheduled to face the committee in October 2019, however he did not turn up to the session saying he wanted to “focus on delivering Brexit” at the time. Since then there’s been an election and a pandemic, hence the delay.
HOW WILL THE COMMITTEE SESSION BE RUN?
The indicative timings are as follows: There will be questions between 4pm and 4.20p from Bernard Jenkin, Yvette Cooper, Stephen Crabb, Pete Wishart and Simon Hoare. These will focus on who is in charge of what – on the matter of Dominic Cummings and the UK Government’s co-ordination with the devolved nations.
Then from 4.20pm-4.44pm, there will be questions on science, testing, tracking and tracing. These will come from Jeremy Hunt, Greg Clark, Clive Betts and Meg Hillier.
From 4.45pm-5.05pm there will be questions focused on the reopening of schools and the inequality effects of Covid-19 from Robert Halfon and Caroline Nokes. After this until 5.20pm it is expected the questions will focus on the economy and come from Mel Stride, Damian Jones, Stephen Timms and Huw Merriman.
The session only lasts 90 minutes.
HOW SHOULD MPS ASK THEIR QUESTIONS?
Angus MacNeil, SNP MP and the chair of the International Trade committee, who is also not taking part, had some advice for the participants.
He said: “I would encourage all chairs who are there to not let him ramble. Interrupt him. Theresa May loved to ramble and I interrupted her.
“The most important and overriding aim is finding out who decided to end community testing and when. The other thing of course would be Dominic Cummings.”
Jenkin prefers a more gentle approach to “gotcha” questions. He said: “I’ve watched other committees sometimes go for the ‘gotcha’ questions and going in for the kill and this actually inhibits the witnesses from being open and transparent.”
HOW CAN I WATCH?
The committee will convene via video conference at 4.30pm today.
The session will be broadcast on the House of Commons website, https://parliamentlive.tv/Commons