HENRY DEEDES watches Boris Johnson flapping like wet hen in CBI speech

Schoolboy panic spread across his doughy chops: HENRY DEEDES watches Boris Johnson flapping like a wet hen during toe-curling CBI speech

We were some 18 minutes in to Boris Johnson’s speech to the CBI when disaster struck. Iceberg right ahead.

Houston, we have a problem, etc.

He’d been babbling incoherently about internet rollout when, all of a sudden, he began shuffling his script around like a gin-soaked croupier.

His voice spluttered and emitted a plughole gurgle.

A look of schoolboy panic spread across his doughy chops as he fidgeted with his shirt tails.

Darn it, if the Prime Minister hadn’t only gone and lost his ruddy place.

At a loss for words: The PM at CBI conference in South Shields yesterday

‘Urggghhhh… Christ,’ he muttered. ‘Urghhhhh… forgive me… forgive me… forgive me… forgive me…’ Mondays, eh?

For 30 seconds, we watched in fist-chewingly awkward silence as Boris desperately scrabbled around trying to retrieve his footing.

Was that a bale of tumbleweed blowing across the stage? A tavern’s sign squeaking in the breeze?

Down in front, the assembled audience in South Shields smoothed their Brylcreemed scalps and grimaced.

Relations between the PM and the CBI’s shiny-suited poohbahs have never been fragrant.

They’re a rampantly pro-EU bunch for starters.

Nor have the sensitive dears easily forgotten that ‘f*** business’ remark Boris once made.

Secretly, some of them would have been revelling in his discomfiture.

Eventually, after much paper tossing the Johnsonian cogs whirred and spun again. Whether he’d found the right place or not wasn’t clear.

He’d flung so many sheets around he may as well have been reading from the venue’s fire alarm instructions.

Not that it mattered by this point. His speech up until then had sounded suspiciously like a hotchpotch of previous speeches and old newspaper columns stitched together on the train up from London that morning.

They’re a self-important bunch the CBI. They like to be schmoozed and have their chin hairs tickled. Blair. Brown. Cameron.

For 30 seconds, we watched in fist-chewingly awkward silence as Boris desperately scrabbled around trying to retrieve his footing

These were Prime Ministers who felt comfortable in the leather chairs of city boardrooms. They admired their flashy business cards, they spoke their lingo.

Not so Boris. He refuses to step in to their stuffy, jargonistic corporate world. Instead, he regaled them with tales from his time as GQ magazine’s motoring correspondent, where he enjoyed listening to the ‘porridge-like burble and pop’ of some of the world’s biggest combustion engines.

We heard how he had driven one of the first ever battery-powered Tesla cars, which he claimed died a death in the fast lane of the M40.

Did he forget to charge it?

His script seemed to grow ever more surreal. He referred to himself in the third person as he described the ‘great funkapolitan hive’ of Battersea Power Station he helped create.

He compared himself to Moses, descending Mount Sinai to deliver his Ten Commandments for reaching net zero to his Cabinet disciples.

At one point, he suddenly began imitating the phlegmy ‘rrrum rrrum rarrr’ of a Ferrari’s engines starting up.

Possibly a first at the CBI. I certainly don’t remember Theresa May ever doing this.

Oh, and towards the end, after his muddled pages fiasco, he went off on a bizarre tangent about Peppa Pig.

At one point, he suddenly began imitating the phlegmy ‘rrrum rrrum rarrr’ of a Ferrari’s engines starting up

‘Hands up, who’s been to Peppa Pig World?’ he asked. Eh? Quizzical faces. Eventually, a solitary mitt dangled in the air.

‘Not enough!’ Boris cried disappointedly. He’d been on a family excursion there over the weekend. Turns out Peppa Pig World, in Hampshire, was the PM’s ‘kinda place’. Safe streets. Discipline in schools.

By now, it was quite possible Boris was freewheeling as he splish-splashed and slalomed all over the joint.

Backstage, his communications team must have been having kittens trying to work out what on Earth he was reading from.

Had he accidentally gone on stage with one of baby Wilf’s colouring books?

After 25 minutes, he finally reached an abrupt conclusion. One of those panicked comms guys had probably appeared at the back of the room making throat-slitting gestures urging him to finish. Nervous laughter.

A smattering of applause.

A right old mess, frankly. Still, it brightened up a dull Monday morning. And it was a darn sight more entertaining than what Sir Keir Starmer managed later.

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