Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to address allegations that he misled the Queen as he appeared in public for the first time since a court ruled his suspension of parliament was unlawful.
In an appearance on Facebook, Mr Johnson spent 15 minutes answering questions selected by 10 Downing Street from queries submitted by members of the public, in what he referred to as a “People’s PMQs”.
It came on the day when he would have faced a grilling of anything up to an hour by MPs – including six questions from leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn- at his second session of actual prime minister’s questions if he had not shut Westminster down for five weeks.
And it happened at the very time when he had been due to undergo 90 minutes of forensic questioning from 35 of parliament’s most senior backbenchers at the House of Commons Liaison Committee, where he could have expected to be quizzed on the Scottish court’s finding, the activities of his adviser Dominic Cummings and his apparent willingness to defy parliament’s instruction to avoid a no-deal Brexit from prominent critics including Hilary Benn and Yvette Cooper.
Committee chair Sarah Wollaston said earlier this week she was “deeply disappointed” that the meeting would not go ahead, but Mr Johnson declined her offer to go ahead with the hearing despite prorogation.
Several of the queries selected for Mr Johnson to answer revolved around questioners’ frustration with politicians, in what appeared to be an attempt to bolster Conservative plans to frame the upcoming general election as a “People vs Parliament” contest.
A viewer called Sheila Spence said she “despaired” of what was going on in parliament and had “lost hope in democracy”, while another called Mark Young said: “The public have no faith in politics. How will you restore this?”
Reading the questions from a tablet computer on his desk in Number 10, Johnson told Ms Spence that he was “on your side” and said in answer to Mr Young’s question that the government would “show that we mean what we say by coming out of Europe”.
Other questioners asked if he could confirm that he would take the UK out of the EU with or without a deal and why Britain could not simply leave the EU immediately.
In his reply, the PM said that every extra week spent in the EU cost the UK £250 million, in clear contradiction to his referendum campaign claim – branded misleading by the official statistician at the time – that Britain was handing over £350 million a week to Brussels.
He claimed that the mood in EU talks was changing and “the ice-floes cracking”.
And he said: “I think what is making people a bit fed up in the last three years is that politicians, us, parliament, have failed to implement the people’s will. That’s the real failure of democracy.
“When people say why have you decided to have this Queen’s Speech, there’s a very simple answer to that – we need to push on with measures to improve our NHS, improve our education… That’s what the public want us to do.
“Of course if opposition members of parliament disagree with our approach, then it is always open to them to take up the offer I made twice that we should have an election. There is nothing more democratic in this country than a general election. We’ve invited them to accept that offer twice and for mysterious reasons of their own they have declined.”
One questioner accused Mr Johnson of running an authoritarian regime, but he brushed the suggestion aside, saying: “I must disagree with you in your characterisation of the government.”
Speaking two days after he closed the doors of parliament to MPs, Mr Johnson said: “I think it’s a very good thing to bring democracy directly to everybody at home, and it’s really great to be speaking directly to so many of you. I worry that people feel disconnected from politics and this is a kind of answer.”