Boris Johnson is physically well and has a full grasp on the prime ministership, Downing Street has said following his rambling speech to business leaders on Monday in which he lost his place for about 20 seconds.
People who watched the speech Johnson gave to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference were impressed with it, his spokesman argued, adding that cabinet ministers could speak freely if they had any concerns.
The speech at the Port of Tyne, which included a vocal impression of a revving car engine and a section on the lessons for capitalism and officialdom presented by the children’s cartoon character Peppa Pig, prompted worries from a number of Tory MPs.
Asked if Johnson “has a grip”, his spokesman replied: “Of course. I’d point to the CBI themselves, who when asked about the speech said leaders would be heartened to hear the prime minister talk passionately about the role of the private sector working in partnership with government to achieve our shared ambition for a high-skilled, high-investment economy.”
It would be wrong to read too much into the section of the speech where Johnson paused for a long period and shuffled the pages of his speech, muttering, “forgive me” three times.
“The prime minister briefly lost his place in the speech,” the spokesman said. “He’s given hundreds of speeches. I don’t think it’s unusual for people, on rare occasions, to lose their place in space.”
Johnson had appeared to be struggling with a cold last week, but his spokesman insisted he was in good health, saying: “The prime minister is well. He’s focused on delivering for the public.”
The spokesman declined to comment on a BBC report that an unnamed “senior Downing St source” said there was “a lot of concern inside the building about the PM”, and a feeling that ministers should demand changes.
“I’ve seen a number of anonymous source quotes, and I’m not, as you know, going to respond to anonymous sources,” the spokesman said.
However, he rejected the idea that ministers felt unable to tell Johnson if they felt he was on the wrong course: “The prime minister has an entire cabinet to draw on, who provide advice, as you would expect, and the cabinet is used for that purpose.
“Of course the prime minister wants people to be able to speak freely and give their views. That’s what cabinet meetings are for. That’s part of the function of government, to have open conversations.”
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