Boris Johnson was asked whether he was ok after giving a speech in which he lost his place, digressed on the merits of Peppa Pig and imitated a revving car.
The Prime Minister muttered “blast it” and asked the audience three times to “forgive me” as he struggled to get his notes in the right order in mid-address, prompting a pause of about 30 seconds.
Speaking to business leaders at the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), he also raised eyebrows by comparing himself to Moses, suggesting he had come “down from Mount Sinai” and comparing his 10-point plan for a green economy with the Ten Commandments.
As the speech went on, Mr Johnson talked about Peppa Pig World, which he visited with his family at the weekend, in a passage that sparked bemusement. He mused on its “very safe streets” and “discipline in schools”, took a dimmer view of the “stereotypical” depiction of “daddy pig” and praised the “Picasso-like hairdryer” portrayal of the characters.
Saying Peppa Pig is now exported to 180 countries and is a business worth £6 billion, he added that “no Whitehall civil servant in the world could conceivably have come up with” the idea and claimed it had initially been “rejected by the BBC”.
Elsewhere, he attempted to impersonate a revving car engine as he extolled the benefits of electric vehicles and said that new Teslas “move off the lights faster than a Ferrari”.
Later in the day, he attempted to shrug off questions about his performance. Asked by the BBC “is everything ok?” he said: “I think people got the vast majority of the points I wanted to make. I thought it went over well.”
However, fears of potential dysfunction at the heart of Number 10 were fuelled after the BBC reported a senior Downing Street source as saying: “There is a lot of concern inside the building about the PM. It's just not working. Cabinet needs to wake up and demand serious changes, otherwise it'll keep getting worse.
“If they don't insist, he just won't do anything about it.”
Rachel Reeves, Labour's shadow chancellor, called Mr Johnson's speech “shambolic” and said it “shows how unseriously he takes British business”. Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said it was a “perfect metaphor for Johnson's chaotic, incompetent government”.
Elsewhere in his speech at the Port of Tyne, in South Shields, Mr Johnson said “Mother Nature does not like working from home” and predicted a rush back to offices.
He rejected suggestions that working behaviours have been altered forever by Covid lockdowns and hinted at people who work from offices only on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday being known as “t—s”.
Mr Johnson said: “I don't want to be dogmatic about this, but I have my doubts and it is not just that young people need to be in the office to learn, and to compete, and to pick up social capital. There are also sound evolutionary reasons why Mother Nature does not like working from home.
“So I prophesise that people will come back, they will come to the office and they will come back on the roads and the rail.”
The Government has faced criticism both that it has not done enough to convince workers to return to offices and has not done enough to support those who have decided to work from home. Ssenior civil servants have urged government departments to conduct safety checks to remove social distancing rules and allow more officials to get back to offices.
Mr Johnson also said the need to “level up” the UK was a “moral mission”. He defended last week's decision to axe the eastern branch of HS2, calling the Integrated Rail Plan “transformatory” and a “fantastic thing”.
During the speech, he also quoted Lenin and said electrification was key to the new green industrial revolution.
Speaking at a CBI event in Birmingham later in the day, Sir Keir Starmer said he wanted to work with business to “remake” Britain following Brexit and Covid.
The Labour leader told the audience that his party was not planning a “rematch on Brexit” and also said he would make it his “mission” to improve skills for young people entering the workplace for the first time.
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( Information from telegraph.co.uk was used in this report. To Read More, click here )