Technical problems temporarily overshadowed the final prime minister’s questions before the summer recess, with Boris Johnson forced to communicate with MPs virtually during a period of self-isolation at Chequers.
As the prime minister attempted to accuse Sir Keir Starmer of wanting to keep England in lockdown, the speaker of the Commons was forced to intervene, complaining: “Prime minister, we’re really struggling on the sound levels”.
Attempting to continue his response to the Labour leader, Mr Johnson replied: “Do you want me to have another go, Mr Speaker?” Can you hear me, Mr Speaker?”
After a brief pause, Sir Lindsay Hoyle finally responded: “We can you loud and clear prime minister”.
The prime minister then asked the speaker whether he wanted him to “give that answer again”, to which a frustrated Sir Lindsay replied: “Just complete the end bit”.
The technical blip comes as both Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak were forced into a humiliating U-turn over the weekend, after being contacted by test and trace services following a meeting with health secretary Sajid Javid, who recently tested positive for Covid-19.
No 10 first said the prime minister and chancellor would avoid self-isolation by participating in a trial testing scheme trialling daily testing — sidestepping the requirement of 10 days’ quarantine.
But with hundreds of thousands of people across the country forced to quarantine in similar situations, the move prompted an immediate political backlash, resulting in both Mr Sunak and Mr Johnson saying they would follow the instruction to self-isolate.
Raising the issue during the debate, Sir Keir asked: “If somebody’s pinged by the NHS app, as millions will be over coming weeks, should they isolate yes or no?”
“Can I wish the prime minister, the Chequers one, well in his isolation. With half a million people self-isolating, I think we were all a bit surprised that the prime minister, the chancellor and the Cabinet Office minister were all randomly chosen for a get-out-of-isolation-free card.
“But it’s good that the prime minister finally recused himself, even if it took a public outcry, for the communities secretary to be humiliated on live TV and a trip to a country estate. If somebody’s pinged by the NHS app, as millions will be over coming weeks, should they isolate yes or no?”
Responding virtually, Mr Johnson replied: “I think that everybody understands the inconvenience of being pinged, as he rightly says here I am, I wish I was with you in the Commons chamber today.
“I apologise to everybody in business up and down the land in all kinds of services, public sector or otherwise who are experiencing inconvenience.
“We will be switching, as the House knows, to a system based on contact testing rather than contact isolation, but until then I just must remind everybody that isolation is a vital tool of our defence against the disease.”
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