Disagreeable liaisons

Innocent debutant Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is just trying to quietly govern the country, but people keep asking him annoying questions


It’s the salt that makes the caramel taste so good, the splash of red that lifts the Turner painting, the guitar riff that improves the vocal. What really makes Rishi Sunak’s appearances so special are the looks of pure loathing that flash across his face as he tries to smile at people who are disagreeing with him.

His final parliamentary session of the year was taking questions from the Liaison Committee, made up of the MPs who chair the various select committees of the Commons. The whole thing has a brisk pace set by Chairman Supreme Sir Bernard Jenkin, allowing the prime minister to talk out tricky subjects by giving wordy answers, so long as he looks like he’s engaging with the subject.

So, asked by Jenkin to say “in a single word” what the greatest threat was facing the UK, Sunak paused, before replying: “The increasingly complex and hostile international environment.” Which was a good answer, if also seven times the requested length. He spent a further minute expanding on this before Jenkin could get another word in.

All of this though was conducted in good humour. It’s possible that, of the six Conservative prime ministers that Jenkin has seen in his time in Parliament, Sunak is the one with whom he is most in sympathy: professionally Eurosceptic, but not someone you’d be embarrassed to find at your dinner table. Not someone who went to a School that intimidates him, but nevertheless someone who went to a School. Jenkin, meanwhile, is certainly the sort of MP that Sunak prefers, one with built-in respect for the office of prime minister.

Labour’s Sarah Champion was next. She didn’t go to any kind of School at all, and doesn’t have any respect either for Sunak or his office. “I’m interested,” she began, flashing the prime minister the kind of toothy smile that Red Riding Hood would have recognised as a warning sign. “Do you consider yourself a leader on the global  stage?” Next to her the Conservative MP Steve Brine tried to maintain a poker face, his eyes flickering for a moment at her effrontery.

The prime minister’s face shifted to the first level of Sunak Snippiness, a look of pain at the silliness of others. “Others will make that determination,” he said. “I’m very proud of the UK’s leadership in multiple areas.” He began to list the many things Britain had done, starting with providing tanks to the Ukraine. He might have got further, but she interrupted. “I’m interested in you.” Brine stared straight ahead with the air of a man who knows his wife is about to make a scene and is hoping that this might be averted by a fortuitous asteroid strike wiping out humanity.

Sunak Snippiness Level Two is a sort of baffled incomprehension that anyone could be so daft. “Well,” he said, just a trace of hardness creeping in, “these are things that I have done on behalf of the UK.” He’d brought a supporter with him, Craig Williams, a Welsh MP who despite the heat of the room was wearing a fleece bodywarmer under his suit. He folded his arms and looked disapprovingly at Champion.

She was undeterred. “If I could ask my question,” she said, with a level of icy charm one associates with a mother who has been told that her child is facing suspension and is about to rip the headmaster’s testicles off and wear them as a trophy. Did he regret cutting aid to Yemen?

“Er no,” Sunak said, a slight croak in his voice.


“I don’t regret the cuts I made to the whole aid budget. This was a decision I made as chancellor that was actually approved by the whole House of Commons.” We’d hit Sunak Snippiness Level Three: Aggressive Patronisation. He set out all the ways the UK remained a significant donor to other countries.

“Thank you,” said Champion. “I think this is the answer you gave to me six months ago.”

“And the facts remain the same,” replied Sunak, as though baffled that he should have to revisit this tedious turf again. “They haven’t changed.”

He began a very long answer about why cuts in help to Yemen weren’t related to recent problems in the country. Champion, conscious that Jenkin had given her a time limit, repeatedly tried to cut the prime minister off and move to a different subject. “I think it’s important on this point,” Sunak ploughed on, as Champion accused him of ignoring her questions, and Jenkin looked pained at the uncouthness of it all, and Brine studied something very interesting on the table in front of him. “I think it is important,” Sunak said again, “because it’s not just aid that will help the situation, it’s also military deterrence.”

“And leadership,” shot back Champion, bringing us to Sunak Snippiness Level Four: broad smile that stops well short of the eyes and the table thumped to emphasise his points.

By the time Labour’s Meg Hillier got to questions about the cost of the Rwanda refugees programme, and the reasons we’re not allowed to know it, we had hit Sunak Snippiness Level Five: Full Throttle Snippy Rishi, who has had enough of your bloody questions. “There is a balance to be struck,” he said, impatient at having to explain himself to all these tedious people.  “All these things, there is an appropriate balance.” He tried to look amused, but as Hillier interrupted him again he swallowed, and there it was, the marvellous grace note of fury that he is still having to deal with your bloody stupid questions.

Still, not long to go. After ninety minutes he was free and clear. Out of the door, and off for a relaxing Christmas break. A week and a half without any annoying questions, and with peace and goodwill to all mankind, except possibly the bastards who keep demanding answers.

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