Boris Johnson has denied leading an “authoritarian regime” as he handpicked questions from Facebook users following his suspension of parliament.
With the House of Commons not sitting – due to the government’s prorogation of parliament – Mr Johnson did not face questions from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn or other MPs in the usual weekly Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
Mr Johnson’s suspension of parliament also means he skipped a grilling by the House of Commons liaison committee – made up of senior MPs – on Wednesday, despite a request for him to keep the appointment, regardless of prorogation.
However, Mr Johnson answered questions in the second edition of his so-called “People’s PMQs”, during a live broadcast on his social media channels. The questions are selected by Mr Johnson’s team and there is no follow-up to his answers.
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The prime minister revealed how Emma Hart, a university lecturer in Edinburgh, wanted to know whether he is “anti-democratic”.
Reading out the rest of her question, Mr Johnson recounted: “Brexit was designed to take back sovereignty for Britain from an authoritarian EU.
“How do you explain to the British people that you are now the leader of an authoritarian regime. Why is home-grown authoritarianism better than EU rule?”
The prime minister has controversially suspended parliament for five weeks, the longest prorogation for decades, until 14 October – when it will reopen with a new Queen’s Speech to set out the government’s legislative agenda and little more than two weeks before the UK is scheduled to leave the EU.
Earlier on Wednesday, a Scottish court ruled Mr Johnson’s suspension of parliament is unlawful – a decision the government vowed to appeal at the Supreme Court in London next week.
Responding to the Facebook question, the prime minister said: “Emma, I must respectfully disagree with you and your characterisation of this government.
“What we’re trying to do is implement the result of the 2016 referendum – the largest democratic exercise ever conducted in the history of this country.
“I think what is making people a bit fed up in the last three years is that the politicians – us, parliament – have so far failed to implement the people’s will.
“And that is, I think, 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, to improve our education, all sorts of things to take forward the people’s priorities.
“Putting 20,000 more police on the streets, tackling homelessness – that’s what the public want us to do.”
Mr Johnson also highlighted how he has twice tried to call an early general election, but seen opposition parties thwart his demand to go to the polls.
He added: “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.
“So we will get on and we will come out of the EU on 31 October and we will also get on with delivering on the people’s priorities.”
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In his answers to other questions during the “People’s PMQs”, Mr Johnson reaffirmed his commitment to negotiating a new Brexit deal with the EU.
He claimed, following recent talks with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, that the “mood is changing, the ice floes are cracking, there is movement under the keel” in his discussions with the bloc.
But he also repeated his commitment to leaving the EU on 31 October, even if he doesn’t strike a new agreement.
This is despite a law, passed by opposition MPs and Tory rebels, designed to compel him to seek a fresh three-month delay to Brexit if he doesn’t get a new deal.
Mr Johnson added he would “insist” on the removal of the backstop from the UK’s current withdrawal agreement and would not accept a Northern Ireland-only version of the arrangement.
The backstop is aimed at avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, should trade negotiations not avert this, but is opposed by Mr Johnson and other Brexiteers for leaving the UK aligned closely to EU rules, for an indefinite period, without any influence.
It had recently been speculated Mr Johnson could revert to a former version of the arrangement – which applies solely to Northern Ireland rather than the whole UK – in order to make a breakthrough in negotiations with the EU.