Belfast Telegraph

Ralph Hewitt: The question that got under Boris Johnson's skin

Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

After meeting Boris Johnson for the second time since he became Prime Minister, I couldn't have imagined getting under his skin quite so much.

The surroundings and relaxed atmosphere of Tayto Castle in Tandragee during his November election campaign seemed a world away when I spoke to him yesterday in Stormont's Great Hall.

My question to the Prime Minister was whether his visit to Northern Ireland was simply a photo opportunity or publicity stunt. I thought to myself: "What's the best way I can put this without annoying Boris?"

That thought was still in my head as he began to call out the names of journalists who had been allowed to quiz the most powerful man in the country.

First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and the new Executive meets with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State Julian Smith. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and the new Executive meets with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State Julian Smith. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Boris Johnson met with first and deputy first ministers Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill and NI Secretary Julian Smith at Stormont Castle to mark the restoration of devolution in NI. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings, Stormont during a visit where he met First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and the new Executive. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings, Stormont during a visit where he met First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill and the new Executive. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Boris Johnson speaks to the media at Stormont after meetings with Arlene Foster and Michelle O'Neill and NI Secretary Julian Smith after the restoration of devolution in NI. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press
Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar and Prime Minister, Boris Johnson meet at Stormont on January 13, 2020 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith (left), Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar (centre left), Prime Minister, Boris Johnson (centre right) and Ireland's deputy premier, Tanaiste, Simon Coveney (right) in the Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday January 13, 2020. Pic: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Boris Johnson at Stormont (Liam McBurney/PA)
Boris Johnson, Michelle O’Neill, Arlene Foster and Julian Smith (Liam McBurney/PA)
Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Alex Maskey (left) and Boris Johnson (Liam McBurney/PA)
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, speaking in the Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, whilst on a visit to meet the leaders of the restored powersharing government. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday January 13, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Politics. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Secretary of State Julian Smith meet with First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - JANUARY 13: Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith (R) are greeted by First Minister, Arlene Foster of the DUP (2nd R) and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill (2nd L) of Sinn Fein at Stormont on January 13, 2020 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, speaking in the Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Photo credit: Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith (right) during their visit to Stormont, Belfast to meet the leaders of the restored powersharing government. PA Photo. Picture date: Monday January 13, 2020. See PA story ULSTER Politics. Photo credit should read: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Then it came.

Mr Johnson announced, "Ralph Hewitt from the Belfast Telegraph", and I just blurted the question out - immediately forgetting how I would pose it to him.

He looked and me and angrily asked, "really?", "photo opportunity?" and "publicity stunt?"

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I just wanted the floor to swallow me up at that point.

But in his usual fashion the PM quickly reneged and was happy to answer as he gave his backing to the new power-sharing Assembly.

He said with a smile that the question was "a little bit harsh from the Belfast Telegraph" but it's safe to say there were no free boxes of Tayto crisps this time.

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