PMQs: Boris Johnson’s best zingers and worst gaffes

‘Hasta la vista, baby’ were the PM’s final words from the despatch box

Boris Johnson at his final PMQs
(Image credit: PA Images)

Boris Johnson has participated in his final Prime Minister’s Questions with the leader of the opposition.

“It was clear” the prime minister thought last week’s PMQs would be his finale, but it ended up being a “damp squib” of a parliamentary clash that “would have been the most downbeat way to end a premiership”, said

Luckily he was afforded the chance to recount his “greatest hits” at today’s session, said Politico’s London Playbook, in which he called Keir Starmer a “human bollard” and described people who use barbecues on dry grass as “clearly insane”. He signed off today’s appearance with a Terminator film reference, quipping: “Hasta la vista, baby.”

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“One thing is for sure, the tone of PMQs isn’t going to be quite the same when he leaves office,” said BBC News political correspondent Ione Wells. The Week looks back on some of Johnson’s best and worst moments from the despatch box.

Best zingers

4 September 2019: Johnson’s first PMQs “was immediately embroiled in controversy”, said The Guardian, when he was captured on camera “gesticulating” towards then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and appeared to say: “Call an election, you great big girl’s blouse.”

He then “raised eyebrows for swearing” while giving one of his answers, and later “insulted” Corbyn with a reference to trade deals with America by saying: “There’s only one chlorinated chicken that I can see in this house, and he’s on that bench.”

11 May 2021: Johnson sent “a light-hearted but direct jab” at Starmer, warning that Labour’s Angela Rayner “may be on the hunt for more ‘titles’”, said the Express. The comment came after Starmer’s “bungled reshuffle” last May, which saw Rayner given “greater authority” after the Labour leader initially stripped her of key roles as party chairman and campaign coordinator, said the paper.

After listing Rayner’s newly awarded titles, Johnson warned that “The more titles he feeds her, the hungrier I fear she is likely to become.” Rayner tweeted that the only title she was “hungry for” was deputy prime minister.

20 April 2022: Johnson was handed a £50 fine in April this year for breaching Covid rules. That saw Partygate return to top of the PMQ agenda the following week, when Starmer “repeatedly probed” Johnson on why he had not yet resigned over the scandal, said GB News.

The PM had addressed the House of Commons the day before, apologising for having received the fine. At PMQs he said he thought the Labour leader was “in some kind of Doctor Who time warp”, continuing: “We had this conversation yesterday, Mr Speaker, and I have explained why I bitterly regret” receiving the fine.

13 July 2022: During what was thought to be Johnson’s last PMQs, he referred to Starmer as “Captain Crasheroonie Snoozefest” – a joke “he had to repeat three times to be heard over other rowdy MPs in the Commons”, said Indy 100. Johnson said the then eight “brilliant” candidates for the Tory party leadership would “wipe the floor” with Starmer.

Johnson has repeatedly referred to the Labour leader as “Captain Hindsight”.

Worst gaffes

4 September 2019: “A first Prime Minister’s Questions session should be a proud moment for any PM but for Johnson, it's probably one that he'd rather forget,” said almost three years ago. The “knives were out” from the start.

Labour’s Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi “absolutely unleashed” on Johnson, “calling him out for many of his racist comments from the not-so-distant past”, said the news site. The PM “notably ducked giving an answer” on when and whether he would launch an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative party, said The Guardian. He “instead turned the tables on Labour”, calling for an apology for a rising anti-Semitism within the party.

22 January 2020: The PM appeared out of touch during the first People’s PMQs of 2020, when he failed to correctly answer a question about the shampoo he used. “Honestly I don’t know,” he responded. “It’s the same stuff that I use for all sorts of cleaning purposes and it’s blue… that’s all I know, it’s blue and it comes in a sort of tube.”

Johnson “swiftly” moved on to tackle “queries about the control of UK fishing waters after Brexit, a Scottish Independence Referendum and NHS funding”, reported the Daily Mail at the time, with the paper describing the PM’s live broadcast from Downing Street as “hair-raising”. People’s PMQs “was soon dropped”, said Indy100.

12 January 2022: The Partygate crisis reached a crescendo at a PMQs in January when Johnson told the Commons that he had believed an illegal Downing Street party was a “work event”. The MPs present “fell silent” at the start of the session, reported the BBC, as the PM admitted he had been at the 20 May 2020 gathering but then added that he “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

Social media users mocked Johnson’s bold statement. “I think parties and work events CAN be very similar,” wrote one Twitter user. “For instance, I confused a drinks menu for a spreadsheet once. And also a seventh mojito for a pen.”

2 February 2022: Johnson and Starmer came to verbal blows over false comments the PM had made about the Labour leader’s failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile when he was working as director of public prosecutions.

Appealing to Tory MPs – several of whom had condemned Johnson’s unfounded claims – Starmer reminded those present that Labour and the Conservatives had “stood together as we defeated fascism in Europe”. Now, he continued, “their leader stands in the Commons parroting the conspiracy theories of violent fascists to try and score cheap political points”.

Johnson refused to apologise or withdraw his remarks.

20 April 2022: Earlier this year, the PM came under fire for falsely claiming in a PMQs session that there were “now more people in work than there were before the pandemic began”. Johnson had admitted that the same claim was untrue just weeks before, accepting a correction from the UK Statistics Authority after he made the boast in Parliament in March.

As The Mirror explained at the time, “while people on payrolls are up since pre-Covid, the number of people in jobs overall was still down by 580,000 compared to December 2019-February 2020”.

Johnson also made the claim at a PMQs on 25 November 2021, a statement which Full Fact, the UK’s independent fact checking organisation, swifty disproved. “There are more payrolled employees, but the total number of people in paid work, including the self-employed, is below the level seen just prior to the pandemic,” said the site at the time.

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