There are hundreds of ways Boris Johnson could have handled this interview—and he may well have picked the worst one.
Days ahead of Thursday’s general election, when the Conservative prime minister is hoping to secure a majority to be able to force through his Brexit project at the start of next year, Johnson suffered a deeply uncomfortable campaign-trail gaffe under tough questioning from a reporter.
The journalist, Joe Pike from ITV News, used his short time with the prime minister to show Johnson a photograph of a boy who, sick at a hospital with suspected pneumonia, was reportedly forced to lie on a pile of coats rather than a hospital bed due to shortages. Brexit aside, the future of the country’s National Health Service has been the key issue during the campaign.
Instead of showing some sympathy for the child and promising to look into the situation, the prime minister looked deeply uncomfortable and repeatedly averted his gaze from Pike’s phone screen. After repeated requests from the reporter to comment specifically on the photo, Johnson snatched the phone away from Pike and slipped it into his pocket.
“You’ve refused to look at the photo,” said Pike to Johnson. “You’ve taken my phone and put it in your pocket, Prime Minister. His mother says the NHS is in crisis, what’s your response to that?”
Johnson, seemingly becoming aware of how dreadful the scene will look when it was shown on television, looked very flustered, removed the phone to look at the photo, and finally expressed some sympathy.
“I’m sorry... It’s a terrible, terrible photo and I apologize, obviously, to the family and all those who have terrible experiences in the NHS. But what we are doing is supporting the NHS and, on the whole, I think patients in the NHS have a much better experience than this poor kid has had.”
Johnson concluded the interview: “I’m sorry for taking your phone.”
Johnson’s Conservative Party is widely expected to win Thursday’s election, although Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party has been closing the gap between them in most polling over recent weeks.