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Fri, 27 November 2020

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Boris Johnson Tried To Get His MPs To Back Him Over Brexit On A Zoom Call. It Didn't Quite Go To Plan

Boris Johnson Tried To Get His MPs To Back Him Over Brexit On A Zoom Call. It Didn't Quite Go To Plan
3 min read

Boris Johnson's plea to MPs to back him in his controversial Brexit plans descended into farce this evening as his Zoom call was hit by technical problems, singing politicians and interventions from Theresa May.

The Prime Minister is said to have made a "patriotic call" to his party in a bid to head off a growing rebellion over his decision to threaten the EU by breaking parts of the Withdrawal Agreement.

But when the Zoom call attended by 256 MPs suddenly broke off after twenty minutes, the online forum descended into chaos as MP Michael Fabricant started singing Rule Britannia, clutching a piece of paper with the words already printed out. 

Ex-chair of the eurosceptic European Research Group, Steve Baker, also suggested he should personally chair the meeting instead, at which point former prime minister May interrupted to say a firm "no". 

She also leapt to the defence of Justice Secretary Robert Buckland when he was asked by restless MPs to give an explanation of why the government is deciding to breach international law, saying "he probably doesn't want to talk about that".

One source on the call told PoliticsHome the whole meeting had a lot of "cringe moments" and had probably failed to stop the expected rebellion of Tory MPs.

The said: "Boris Johnson framed this as a patriotic request. The main thrust of it was vote for his bill and strengthen the government's hand in negotiations with the EU and accept he has to disapply legacy EU law.

"He also said we must not return to the squabbling of last autumn, and I could see Theresa May looking angry. People could definitely see the irony of that.

"We were muted but when the No 10 line went down you could all control your own mute button. That's when Fabricant started singing Rule Britannia. He said 'I've got the words here' and he had it right in front of him.

"Buckland was asked to give a legal explanation but Theresa May said he probably doesn't want to talk about that. Since we couldn't ask questions we couldn't get anything clarified anyway.

"When Johnson came back on the line he joked that he should probably invest in gigabit broadband."

Another MP said Johnson was basically asking them not to rebel against him, which some felt was a rich ask considering his own very public criticism of Mrs May's deal and negotiation with the EU throughout her time in office. 

They said the message they took from the call was "don't do to me as I did to Theresa May".

MPs suggested this evening that he had not done enough to thwart the looming Tory rebellion when his plan goes to the vote as part of the Internal Markets Bill.

An amendment to the legislation tabled by Sir Bob Neill, chair of the justice select committee, would put a "parliamentary lock" on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement is said to have the support of 30 MPs so far. 

However MPs doubted that there would eventually be enough numbers to bring down the bill.

"We will see over the weekend but I don't think they'll get the numbers," said one MP.

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