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[Transcript] Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts puts users’ questions to Prime Minister Boris Johnson

You can find below the full transcript of the chat between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mumsnet founder and CEO Justine Roberts. Discussion thread and video here.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Jul 4, 2022

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: So, first of all, thank you. Thank you so much for sitting down with us - we know how busy you are.

Boris Johnson: Absolute pleasure

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: We really appreciate the time. I’m going to kick off first with a question about trust and integrity, because of the many many hundreds of questions we got on Mumsnet, about half were on this subject. As you know, I'm going to ask user questions to you. So here we go. This is a pretty typical question that sums up the mood on Mumsnet, I would say, from a user who goes by the name of TimBoothsEyes. She’d like to know: “Why should we believe anything you say when it has been proven you’re a habitual liar?”

Boris Johnson: Well, first of all, I don’t agree with the conclusion that er that tim, that the questioner asked, but - not the premise of the question - but look, er, I think that the best thing, the best way for me to answer that is to say, look at what I get on with and deliver, and what I say I’m going to deliver. That’s what I’m in politics to do, to try and make life better for people if I possibly can. I’m there to try to get the country - I was elected at a particularly difficult time in politics to get some tough things done. They then became, things then became if anything even more difficult because of the pandemic. But if you look at what we’re doing, we’re getting on and delivering. And I would say - look at getting many more police out on the streets to make our streets safer, we’ve already got about 30,000 more, neighbourhood crime down substantially, look at what we’ve done with our NHS, which I made a big thing about…

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: So we're going to come onto that…

Boris Johnson: So my answer, so my answer about trust, is people throw all sorts of accusations at me about all sorts of things, ever since I drove around in a, with a sign on a bus, and they have all sorts of reasons for saying that. But I think you’ve just got to look at the record of what I deliver.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: Okay, thank you. On a related issue, Cheguevarahamster asks: “Why have you removed the Nolan principles, namely integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty, and leadership in the public interest, from the forward of the ministerial code?”

Boris Johnson: Justine, we haven’t, I just checked, there’s still a clear reference in the top of the ministerial to the seven principles of public life, the seven principles that you’ve just mentioned.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: So you don’t accept, cos another user asks “Why should ministers be any less accountable than civil servants?”

Boris Johnson: No, no, they should. No I think ministers if anything should be - if anything - should be more accountable, and I think ministers should, you know, step up and take responsibility. Civil servants are there to give advice, ministers - the whole point of our system is that there’s a difference between ministers and civil servants and we’ve got to carry the can and take the blame.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: Which leads us to party gate. Obviously we had a lot of questions about party gate. Wolstonecraft asks “As a teacher I would lose my job if I broke the law, why doesn’t the same apply to the Prime Minister?”

Boris Johnson: Well, I’ve just got to say, to Wolstonecraft, that again, I apologise very much for what happened, but just to remind her of, you know, what I did. And if people look at the event in question, erm, it was, it felt to me like a work event. I was there for a very short time, in the cabinet office, at my desk, and you know, I was very very surprised and taken aback to get a FPN but of course I paid it and I think that - you know, why am I still here? I’m still here because we’ve got huge pressures economically; we’ve got to get on and, you know we’ve got the biggest war in Europe for 80 years. Er and we’ve got a massive agenda to deliver, which I was elected to deliver, and I was going to, and I thought about all these questions a lot as you can imagine, and I just cannot see how it would be responsible, right now, given everything that is going on, simply to abandon a) the project upon which I embarked…

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: I get that but lots of our users would say if you’ve got the trust of the people and your government has lost the trust, then you can’t possibly be an effective Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson: Well, I mean, you know, let’s see about that. And I think that, that the challenges, and yeah I’m not going to deny that the whole thing hasn’t been a totally, you know, miserable experience for people in Government. And we’ve got to learn from it and we’ve got to understand the mistakes that we made, and we’ve got to move forward. We were asking people - we had a pandemic where we, and the only, the only tools we had for quite a long period were non-pharmaceutical interventions. The only thing we could do was to try to persuade people to restrict their types of behaviour.  And of course I can totally see how infuriating it is to think that people like me were not fulfilling the letter of the rules ourselves. I totally understand that. All I can enter in mitigation is the, what I’ve said just now about the event for which I received the FPN, and then on the other thing, the other events that I was at, you know, I genuinely believed, genuinely believe that was I was doing - and I know that people may think this is not good enough - but what I thought I was doing was saying goodbye, briefly, to hard-working staff who had really been working, they’re doing their best to help people… so that’s what was going on.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: So another question, itsgettingweird asks “Can you honestly say it’s more important to hold leaving drinks for a colleague - who you could hold an event for after restrictions loosened - than it was for the rest of the country to say goodbye to loved ones at funerals?

Boris Johnson: No, no, of course I understand so much how that questioner feels about the restrictions. All I can say is that everybody who was here, we’re in the building where where everybody was working blindingly hard, and they were all under the rules meant to be here, they had the exemption for work purposes and what I thought I was doing - and actually for most of these things that’s what the investigation concluded - what I thought I was doing was simply doing what is right for a leader in a, a, any circumstances, and that’s to thank people for their service. And if you don't do that, people feel underappreciated and under-motivated. This was a time when we had to keep morale high, and the whole place was under a huge amount of pressure. Anyway I make these points in explanation and in exte- but not to minimise what I know is people’s sense of, that we got it wrong and that we should have done better. I totally understand that.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: So it won’t surprise that many people on Mumsnet are affected by the cost of living crisis. ThewitcheytoeLinesman asks: “What steps do you personally take to ensure that you’re as educated as possible about the experience of less well-off families. Matthew Parris famously tried to live on benefits for a short time and struggled. How can we trust you to make the decisions when you seem so detached from the everyday struggles of millions?”

Boris Johnson: I, I understand exactly why that person feels as they do. All I can say is that I try as much as I can to to to, talk to my constituents, I’m often…

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: Well another user says you don’t do surgeries anymore, and she’s one of your constituents.

Boris Johnson: I try and talk to my constituents as much as I can, and I do do surgeries actually so I don't know - I’ll happily see her

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: Okay, I’ll pass that along

Boris Johnson: Pass that down the line. But you know, I think Justine the answer to this is that I have to, I have to, I recognise that the country is going through a tough time economically, because of what happened in covid. I think we can come out of it very strongly. And, in the meantime, the Government is going to have to use a lot of fiscal fire-power that we’ve built up as a result of the tough decisions that we took. Tell people: £15 billion pounds' worth of support. That’s £1,200 for 8 million of the most vulnerable households. £400 for all, for everybody, to help with the cost of heating. This is a big, big intervention, it’s only possible because we have the economic strength to do it. On top of that we’re also helping people by increasing the household support fund which goes to local councils. So that’s a £1.5 billion fund. As well as a stream of other things that we’re doing to support people.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: Okay so can we talk about one of those, perhaps, which your Government hasn’t as yet addressed and that’s the cost of childcare which is, of course, a big concern for Mumsnetters. So Username35742147: “The cost of childcare in the UK is the second highest in Europe, there’s a lot of evidence to show that subsidising childcare so it’s actually affordable would lead to many more women working or working more hours.”

Boris Johnson: I totally get that.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: So what’s the government doing?

Boris Johnson: So we’re spending about £6 billion on childcare already but there are things that aren’t working right. For instance, as I’m sure that Mumsnet readers/viewers know, there’s an allowance of £2,000, a grant of £2,000, for households with, with £100,000 income or less. And about, the takeup for this is disappointing

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: Yes, you should advertise it a bit more

Boris Johnson: We can advertise it a bit more - I’ve got another idea though. About a million people don’t take it up, a million people who are eligible don’t take it up. And I, that’s crazy, because you’re right - if parents had better, more confident access to childcare, you would have a massive benefit to the economy. Um, what you need to do - we’re supporting people on universal credit as well, as you know, people who are on benefits have 85% of their childcare costs paid. I’m looking at a few things. One of them is to try and make it easier to be a childminder. Cos I think childminders can make a huge difference - I think there’s a difference between, erm er, some of the provision that we have and childminders I think offer a really really good way forward if we make it easier for people to register as childminders so we’re looking at that. But the other thing is, can we be flexible in the way that you spend your entitlement to childcare? And are there things that you and I might remember from our days in north London, you know things like Tumble tots or Danceround or Little Kickers or whatever these things are that you can do - that currently you can’t use childcare funding for, but maybe you should be able to do in the future. So we’re looking at trying to encourage take up by having more flexibility. So we’re also looking at are there things we can do to make childcare more affordable generally and to to the way the whole thing works.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: So -

Boris Johnson: The point I’m trying to make is that there already is funding…

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: There is some funding, it’s very hard to spend it, however there’s very patchy provision, a lot of the nurseries are going bust, but I’m going to move on because we want to cover more ground. Mumsnet user StageRage: “Are you a do-as-I-say or do-as-I-do kind of dad?”

Boris Johnson: Are you talking about my parenting skills? Yeh look I mean I’m not going to, I’m not going to, I’m doing a lot, all I would say is that I’m doing a lot at the moment Justine and I want you to know.  And I say that without any inhibition or any fear of contradiction?

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: A lot of bathtime?

Boris Johnson: I am doing, I am.. You know, I can tell you I’ve changed a lot of nappies recently.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: And what’s your favourite…

Boris Johnson: favourite type of nappy?

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: favourite young child’s book? No, not that - I don't really want to know.

Boris Johnson: I can tell you. I’m very fast by the way

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: What about books, bedtime stories?

Boris Johnson: Erm, I think… I like the um…. I like the ones I used to like to be honest. So I, er, I like.. I used to call it Dr Sois, Dr Seuss, the cat in the hat.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: Okay. So men never get asked this question…

Boris Johnson: ‘This was no time for playing, this was no time for fun, this was no time for games...’

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: Yes lovely, but it is time for another question.

Boris Johnson: '...there was work to be done' - which is our motto in Number 10.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: So how do you balance - men never get asked this and I wonder what you think about that - but how do you balance being a parent with such a demanding career?

Boris Johnson: I er. How do I do it? I think er. The more you put in the more you get out! How about that as an answer. So you’ve got to, you’ve got to - Carrie obviously does more than I do, I’m not going to conceal that fact from you. She does far far more than I do. But I think if you really sat her down and interrogated her, she would admit that I do quite a lot too.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet:  Okay. “What's the last lie you told?” from ThettaReddast.

Boris Johnson: It certainly wasn’t the answer to the last question and I, and I want you to know, I direct tta red…

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: reddast

Boris Johnson: reddast back to my earlier answer. I try to be as committed as I can to delivering everything that I’ve said I’m going to do and that is what I think is crucial and when you - when people, people have thrown all sorts of stuff at me, and tried to undermine what I’m trying to do, and I think when you look at the detail of their accusations they tend to dissolve. Er, you know, people said it wasn’t £350 million a week, that this was the great thing that I’d made up, and actually this year, it would have been considerably more than £350 million a week. So the statistics was wrong, it turned out, but it was an under-estimation but you know, I would say to her, look at what we do, and look at what I try to do.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: Okay, last question? It’s on Northern Ireland from ShandaLear. “Do you have any clue what will happen if you try to impose a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland? Do you even realise that you have jeopardised peace in NI with your disingenuous protocol? Do you even care?”

Boris Johnson: So I think that the, that the protocol is certainly not functioning well. And the last thing we want to have is a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and that is simply not going to happen. All that we’re trying to do is to get rid of some pretty pointless and bureaucratic checks on stuff that’s going from GB to Northern Ireland, and these checks are, what they’re doing is they're undermining the confidence of one community in Northern Ireland - the Unionist community - in the arrangements that we have. And so, the Good Friday Agreement depends on balance. It depends on both communities, both traditions, in Northern Ireland feeling they're being looked after. Now, I did the protocol, I negotiated it. The problem is, that I thought it would be implemented with common sense and pragmatism. Because the ultimate arbiter for how to make it work unfortunately is the EU. And I just think what is needed is more pragmatism and less theology, because at the moment what you’ve got is one community in Northern Ireland - the Unionist/Royalist community - feeling that there’s a border down the Irish sea, an East-West border, and that is inflaming their sentiment, they won’t go back into government in Northern Ireland unless we fix it. So for me the priority is to fix the protocol and get the Good Friday Agreement institutions up and running again. That’s what needs to happen and that’s the best thing for Northern Ireland. Best thing for Northern Ireland, and for the whole of the country, is for politicians to be getting on with the job focusing on the economy, the things that matter to them.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: Okay, and it wouldn't be a Mumsnet interview, if I didn’t ask you your favourite biscuit?

Boris Johnson: Yes I know well - I have the benefit of having been interviewed by you before on this question, Justine,  and I know that many years ago you or your agents asked me and I think I said a chocolate digestive biscuit and I’m going to stick to…

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: You did but I was wondering if you preferred cake now!

Boris Johnson:  The cake, there was not, I did not eat a c-, if you’re talking satirically about that miserable event whose picture appeared on the front page of the, the, no cake was consumed by me I can tell you that much. Probably a chocolate digestive, same as last time.

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: Very consistent

Boris Johnson: It’s the chocolate taste explosion that lures you to have the wholemeal… and then you keep going down the packet…

Justine Roberts, Mumsnet: I think you used even flowery descriptions last time. But thank you, thank you for your time.

Boris Johnson: Thank you.

Mumsnet founder puts users’ questions to Prime Minister Boris Johnson