Four times Boris Johnson was caught out not knowing the detail

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·4 mins read

Watch: Boris Johnson apologises for lack of clarity over North East coronavirus restrictions

Boris Johnson had to apologise after he muddled key details about the North East’s lockdown on Tuesday.

The prime minister admitted he “misspoke” when trying to explain the new rules, which were announced on Monday and will come into effect at midnight on Wednesday.

When asked by reporters to clarify if people could meet in a pub garden, Johnson had said: “In the North East and other areas where extra-tight measures have been brought in, you should follow the guidance of local authorities. But it is six in a home, six in hospitality [and] as I understand it, not six outside.”

Johnson was later forced to tweet: “Apologies, I misspoke today. In the North East, new rules mean you cannot meet people from different households in social settings indoors, including in pubs, restaurants and your home. You should also avoid socialising with other households outside.”

It’s not the first time the PM has struggled with details, as these four recent examples demonstrate…

Clockwise from top left, Boris Johnson responds to questions about a major coronavirus report, Marcus Rashford, no recourse to public funds and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
Clockwise from top left, Boris Johnson responds to questions about a major coronavirus report, Marcus Rashford, no recourse to public funds and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

‘Read the report!’

In July, a major report, commissioned by the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, warned a fresh coronavirus outbreak in the winter could be even worse than the first peak and cause up to 120,000 deaths in a worst-case scenario.

At the following Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked Johnson if he had read the report, which urged his government to act in the summer and guard against a second wave.

He would only say: “I am of course aware of the report.”

One opposition MP in the chamber shouted: “Read the report!”

‘To be honest, I only became aware of it today’

In June, Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford was dominating the news agenda with his one-man crusade for free school meal vouchers during the summer holidays.

His campaign stirred huge public interest, with Johnson’s government eventually relenting to announce a one-off £120m fund benefiting 1.3m children.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: Marcus Rashford of Manchester United in action during the Premier League match between Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester United at American Express Community Stadium on September 26, 2020 in Brighton, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United via Getty Images)

However, Johnson then admitted: “I talked to Marcus Rashford today and congratulated him on his campaign which, to be honest, I only became aware of very recently – today.”

The admission came in response to a reporter who asked if he has “lost touch” with the public.

‘Hang on, Stephen’

In May, appearing before the House of Commons liaison committee, Johnson appeared confused when Labour MP Stephen Timms asked him about a couple in his constituency who have no recourse to public funds.

This is a condition applied to people staying in the UK with a temporary immigration status “to protect public funds”.

Timms told the PM: “They have leave to remain in the UK but no recourse for public funds, so they can’t get any help at all. Isn’t it wrong that a hard-working, law-abiding family like that is being forced by the current arrangements into destitution?”

Johnson responded: “Hang on, Stephen, why aren’t they eligible for universal credit or employment support allowance or any of the other benefits?”

Boris Johnson when asked about no recourse to public funds in May. (Parliamentlive.tv)
Boris Johnson when asked about no recourse to public funds in May. (Parliamentlive.tv)

Timms explained: “It’s because they have no recourse for public funds, that’s the condition that’s attached to their leave to remain. They’ve been here for years.”

Johnson said: “I’m going to have to come back to you on that, Stephen.”

Labour frontbencher Jess Phillips tweeted: “Boris Johnson not knowing what no recourse to public funds means was quite phenomenal.”

Watch the full exchange below...

‘I thought you were a man of detail?’

In July last year, when Johnson was campaigning to become the new Conservative Party leader, he made the mistake of telling the BBC’s Andrew Neil to “get the detail right” in a discussion about Brexit and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Twenty seconds later, this blew up in Johnson’s face.

Watch the full exchange below...

Coincidentally, Johnson refused to be interviewed by Neil in the general election campaign a few months later.

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