Boris Johnson as Prime Minister: the end is nigh - Ethan Shone’s video reaction to PMQs

An embattled Boris Johnson faced MPs at a prime minister’s questions like no other

It’s difficult to judge the prime minister’s performance at PMQs today by normal standards.

Ordinarily, had the backbenches been so relatively quiet, had he been pinned down quite so forcefully by Keir Starmer, or had he failed to land a single decent riposte - all of which is true of today’s exchange - you’d be saying it was a terrible, terrible day at the despatch box for Boris Johnson.

But given the context of a government which seems on the verge of collapse, Boris Johnson will probably consider that outing a success, given that at no point was he interrupted with the announcement of another resignation from his government - as has happened to a number of his colleagues who’ve done media rounds in the last 24 hours.

In front a packed chamber, Johnson opened up with tax cuts, a hint at how he intends to try and win back some of his colleagues with a return to free-market, low-tax Toryism. Perhaps equally revealing was his self-deprecating joke about fielding more meetings with ministerial colleagues later today - a suggestion he knows he is far from out of the woods.

Silence on the Tory benches

The loud jeering from the opposition benches was to be expected, and perhaps Johnson will again count himself lucky that the usual brays of support from those sat behind him weren’t replaced with jeers - but instead, his colleagues sat mostly in silence.

Starmer highlighted their unease quite effectively, accusing the backbenches of sitting there as if it was all normal behaviour - their reaction, of stony silence, proved this was anything but a normal PMQs. Even a classic offhand Johnson jibe that Starmer ‘should hear what his lot say about him’ barely raised a smile among Tory MPs. In contrast Starmer describing MPs riding to Johnson’s defence yesterday as the ‘charge of the lightweight brigade’ did prompt a few chuckles, even on the Conservative frontbench.

But has Johnson accepted that the end is nigh? Earnest contrition would have been not only out of character but out of the question in a context like PMQs, but even still Johnson gave every impression of a man determined to keep on keeping on.

In Starmer’s line of questioning was another sign that Westminster considers Johnson all but gone - he broadened out his criticism beyond the PM, seeking to tie even those who’ve already distanced themselves from Johnson by resigning to the long list of scandals that preceded the Pincher affair.

In response we got a bleak preview of the attack lines for the next election. Labour will accuse whoever runs the Tory party of supporting Boris Johnson, while the Conservatives will say that Starmer wanted to put Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.

An election looming?

And that election could now come much sooner than looked likely until just a couple of days ago. Starmer finished by making the point that the problems in the Conservative party don’t start and end at Boris Johnson, he finished by asking “isn’t it clear, the only way the country can get the fresh start it deserves is by getting rid of the lot of them?”

Johnson’s attempt at a response felt fumbled if determined. His rhetorical style was no different from the many other times he has appeared at that despatch box, but what did feel very different were the half-hearted cheers of support from those behind him.

Johnson may get another go or two at PMQs before he is removed from office, but it seems highly unlikely that he will ever hear the kind of roars of support from over his shoulder that he became accustomed to during his time in power.