“HASTA la vista . . . baby.” Was that a fond farewell from Boris Johnson, or a Terminator-style threat to blow up his Tory assassins?
A bit of both, perhaps. But for a man nursing a gigantic sense of injustice, the soon-to-be ex-Prime Minister took his final Commons grilling with remarkably good humour.
He listed his achievements and dished out advice to whoever wins the final race to No 10: “Focus on the road ahead, but always remember to check the rear-view mirror.”
It was a new twist on that old political adage: “Your opponents are in front of you — but your enemies are behind.
BoJo might have been thinking about such former allies as front-runner Rishi Sunak, who triggered the PM’s resignation by quitting as Chancellor.
Or those colleagues who refused him a place in their fantasy Cabinet. Or who remained silent when asked if he could be trusted.
But he may have given a clue by singling out Rishi’s former power base for its record of getting big decisions wrong.
“I love the Treasury, said Boris. “But remember that if we always listened to them, we would never have built the M25 or the Channel Tunnel.”
The PM used his last appearance at the despatch box to hail his genuinely remarkable achievements.
“The last few years have been the greatest privilege of my life,” he said.
“I helped to get the biggest Tory majority for 40 years. I transformed our democracy and restored our national independence.
“I have helped get this country through a pandemic and helped save another country from barbarism.
“Frankly that’s enough to be going on with.”
Grace under pressure
Then, like The Terminator, he signalled he would be back: “Mission accomplished . . . for now.”
Even those who wielded the knife stood and cheered as he left the green benches after a 40-minute bravura display of grace under pressure.
On the opposite benches, by contrast, rows of MPs sat sour-faced and silent, arms folded, unforgiving.
Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour troops and spittle-flecked Scot Nats were in no mood for a good-natured parting. This was hatred, pure bile. To HM Loyal Opposition, a few Downing Street drinks at the end of exhausting 18-hour days during the Covid crisis was not a party — it was tantamount to mass murder.
Yet when Starmer did precisely the same thing at a Labour knees-up in Durham, it was all work and no play.
Such ocean-going, mean-spirited hypocrisy is the hallmark of Sir Keir Starmer, the man who voted 48 times against Brexit but now claims to support it.
The man who fought to prolong lockdown at the risk of collapsing the economy. Who supported the EU go-slow on vaccines and stayed silent as French President Emmanuel Macron tried to sabotage AstraZeneca.
“He is a great, pointless human bollard,” cried Boris, to raucous Tory cheers.
What will Boris do now? Certainly he will revive his domestic finances by resuming a well-paid newspaper column, finishing his book on William Shakespeare, writing lucrative memoirs and delivering million-dollar speeches on the international circuit.
But will Boris lick his wounds and say goodbye to frontline politics? Certainly not, if yesterday’s cryptic remarks are anything to go by.
There is plenty of mileage left in this election-winning phenomenon.
He didn’t come into politics like other politicians, shifting shape and climbing the greasy pole. He burst upon the political landscape, first as Mayor of London and then, in what seems like an instant, as Prime Minister.
He has such rare charismatic stardust he does not need to seek attention. It seeks him out.
It is not difficult to imagine Boris returning a few years from now, perhaps after a Tory election defeat, forgiven and shriven of all political sin, cheered on as the returning prodigal son.
Even now, as he shuffles shambolically off centre stage, thousands of grassroots Tory voters are signing a petition urging BoJo not to go-go. Many think he could still win next time. They may be suffering “sellers’ remorse” and this mood will grow with time.
If he hopes to return one day, Boris needs to avoid any perception of disloyalty to his successor, especially if it turns out to be Rishi Sunak, the man he blames for his downfall.
That prospect sprang into focus yesterday as Penny Mordaunt was eliminated, leaving Rishi and Liz Truss in a two-horse race.
Boris certainly feels betrayed. He blames his old enemy Dominic Cummings — a Rishi fan — for masterminding his assassination.
But the first priority of 200,000 paid-up party members is to choose the candidate with the best chance of winning the next election.
They will spend the final weeks of this sensational summer choosing either the first man of colour or a third woman as Britain’s next Prime Minister.