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You’ve got to hand it to Priti Patel.
Either she is completely shameless or totally clueless. Though one shouldn’t rule out the possibility that she’s both. Most of us distinctly remember the home secretary causing problems for Boris Johnson a few weeks ago by saying she had been calling for stricter border controls last March to control the coronavirus pandemic.
But dragged to parliament to answer an urgent question on whether the government was planning to introduce new measures, such as a 10-day hotel quarantine for all – or even some – of the people arriving in the country by plane, Patel’s mind went totally blank.
Priti Vacant had no recall of ever having made a stand against her cabinet colleagues on border controls because the government had made exactly the right calls at the right time throughout the crisis. It must be a mystery to her that the UK now has the highest Covid mortality rate in the world. There again, it’s possible that no one has got round to telling her. In Priti World, it was clear the UK government had acted with the utmost clarity by being clear with the British public about the comprehensive actions it was clearly taking.
The shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, looked somewhat bewildered as he rattled off a list of measures the government had taken that had been too little, too late, and he got little joy in second-guessing what plans she might have for enforced quarantine requirements for arrivals. Everything would be clear when everything was clear. It was far too early, said Patel, to speculate on plans to use hotels – despite the fact that most ministers had been doing little else over the past few days – but she was clear parliament would be the first to know what was happening unless the news happened to be leaked to a journalist first.
Other MPs received similar knockbacks. The SNP’s Joanna Cherry was simply ignored when she asked why Patel had not resigned last year if she had felt so strongly about border controls, as were Labour’s Kevin Brennan and Charlotte Nichols.
Everything about the government’s response had been clearly calculated. Asylum seekers had been deported to stop them getting coronavirus in detention centres and the large queues at Heathrow airport the previous weekend were a sign that the Border Force was checking everyone’s details thoroughly. Come the end of the session, no one was any the wiser about whether the government had a plan or not. On balance, not.
There was much the same lack of detail during the following urgent question, on when schools might reopen. Though for once this was nothing to do with the uselessness of Gavin Williamson as the education secretary had left his junior minister, Nick Gibb, to do the gig of letting everyone know he didn’t know what was going on. Which wasn’t a wholly bad move, as Gibb is a great deal more competent than Gav and if he doesn’t know then almost certainly no one else does either.
Some schools might open at half-term, Gibb said, some might open at Easter and some might open at some other – as yet unspecified – date. It was possible some schools could open by region rather than as a national body, but it was basically all still a mystery.
Though Gibb did rather muddy the waters by saying the reason that the schools were closed had nothing to do with them being unsafe. The safety element only became a factor when schools had pupils and staff in them to increase the chances of community transmission. It must have taken some skill to say that with a straight face, though Gibb doesn’t look like a man prone to many laughs. That’s what working with Williamson can do to you, I guess.
For Johnson, though, there was no hiding place as he took the Downing Street press conference on the day the UK’s death total went past the 100,000 mark. Normally on these occasions, he tries to make the odd gag or looks to the vaccine programme for signs of optimism, but this time he just played it straight. For a few minutes, at least, it seemed as if the enormity of his many failures had finally got to him. The narcissistic charlatan had temporarily been laid bare.
Time and again, Johnson was asked what had gone wrong. How could the government have handled the pandemic so badly? “I take full responsibility,” he said abjectly. “We did all we could.” Really? Who had been the prime minister who had once said a death toll of 20,000 would be a good outcome? Who had promised the crisis would be over first by the summer and then by Christmas? Who had presided over the chaos of test and trace? Who had, time and again, ignored the scientific evidence because he couldn’t face down his angry backbenchers or ignore his longing to be loved? Whose delays in locking down the country had directly contributed to tens of thousands of deaths?
“We will learn lessons,” Boris promised. Though far too late in the day for many. It was asking too much for the prime minister to show genuine humility and remorse, but this was the afternoon on which the “world king” was temporarily humbled. Normally his denial and self-obsession is so great, he is immune to other people’s suffering. But even he could not shrug this off. It was a moment of genuine sorrow. For himself as well as the bereaved.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘We’ll learn lessons,’ Johnson promised, far too late in the day for many | Coronavirus