Boris Johnson’s cabinet ministers are no strangers to verbal contortion in the face of awkward questioning over his decision making.
So his former Northern Ireland secretary will at least have been well-prepared for the grilling he faced from a schoolchild some 24 hours after being sacked by the PM in Thursday’s dramatic cabinet reshuffle.
Julian Smith has been lauded for self-effacing humour in relating the awkward encounter at a school in his constituency of Skipton and Ripon on Friday.
Download the new Independent Premium app
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
During the visit, a child asked him if he knew Boris Johnson. When Mr Smith replied that he did, the child said: “Wow. When did you last meet him?”
“Er, yesterday,” came the response from Mr Smith, who had last been seen exiting the Commons shortly after being sacked by Mr Johnson.
The youngster was not done yet, however, adding: “Really! How was it?”
“Er, er, er … Great, it was just great,” Mr Smith described himself as saying.
While Sajid Javid’s shock resignation dominated headlines in Thursday’s reshuffle, of all the ministers given marching orders it was arguably the departure of Mr Smith – voted “Minister of the Year” by The Spectator only two weeks before – that inspired the most notable plaudits for his efforts while in office.
Mr Smith won fans among both unionists and nationalists during his eight months in the role, as he helped to restore power-sharing to Stormont and navigated perilous obstacles on the government’s route to drafting a Brexit withdrawal agreement.
His departure, which was widely attributed to his dissent over the prospects of a no-deal Brexit, dismayed the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who described him as “one of Britain’s finest politicians of our time”, while Northern Ireland’s first minister, Arlene Foster, praised his “dedication” to the role.
Mr Smith was not the only former minister facing awkward exchanges on the morning after the reshuffle.
When asked by reporters outside his home whether he had a message for the prime minister, the only sentiments that outgoing chancellor Sajid Javid could muster for his former Downing Street neighbour were: “Happy Valentine’s Day.”