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His news conference with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was, again, one where Rishi Sunak looked like he felt hard done by at the end.

Not for the first time he looked slightly aggrieved at a line of questioning that failed to recognise what he thought he was getting right.

Today, President Zelenskyy flew 1,500 miles to deliver one message to more than a thousand UK parliamentarians in Westminster Hall: That Ukraine needed fighter jets.

Politics live: Nothing is off the table’ when it comes to military support for Ukraine

It was a cleverly constructive emotive peroration at the conclusion of one of the best pieces of oration that this generation of politicians will ever hear – reaching deep into the British psyche to mount an appeal for practical support, empathy and engagement.

Towards the end of his address, Mr Zelenskyy handed Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, a fighter pilot helmet engraved with a plea to give Ukraine the “wings” to protect its freedom.

“I appeal to you and the world with simple and yet most important words: Combat aircraft for Ukraine, wings for freedom,” he said.

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Zelenskyy speaks in Westminster Hall

Unsurprisingly, after this, journalists pressed the government on whether it would indeed supply fighter jets. In a Downing Street briefing, the answer was equivocal. The government spokesman said that the PM had tasked the defence secretary with investigating what jets the UK can give.

Appearing to “mansplain” President Zelenskyy, the spokesman suggested he was asking for the wrong thing since fighter jets were a long term solution because of the length of time involved in training pilots, and thus they weren’t the priority for Ukraine that the Ukrainian government thinks it is.

So the question rolled forward to the news conference with the two leaders in Dorset. Half a dozen times, Mr Sunak was asked whether the UK would be giving fighter jets and didn’t give a clean, clear answer.

While saying “nothing is off the table”, he again suggested that Mr Zelenskyy really wanted something other than the thing he asked MPs and peers for earlier, saying “probably the most crucial thing they want is main battle tanks and long range missiles”.

He suggested fighter jets were hard because of supply chain issues, and the obstacles which joint international agreements pose and again referred to the issue of the time it takes to train fighter pilots.

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‘What is holding West back over Ukraine?’

He even spoke on behalf of Mr Zelenskyy, suggesting that “I think the president will tell you” how good the UK has been, a curious technique of putting words in the mouth of the man next to him.

Bristling at the line of questioning of the media, he even resorted to management consultant speak, declaring that “we’ve probably been the most forward leaning country” in bringing about the defeat of Russia. He rejected out of hand any suggestion of UK reticence.

In fact, Mr Sunak does lead among the most pro-Ukraine administration which has done more than anyone else to transform the international debate in President Zelenskyy’s favour.

Read More:
Zelenskyy holds talks with PM and King today in first UK visit since Russian invasion
Could fighter jets be sent to Ukraine?

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Yet his presentation on Wednesday did not do his government’s position justice. Just as in Morecambe in Lancashire two weeks ago, where a media event got bogged down in questions about levelling up funds going to the South, hindering the PM’s ability to get his message out, Mr Sunak was unable to transcend the niggling issue of the day.

Despite all of the advantage, ceremony, preparation and pomp of being PM, he was hampered by his communication skills on a critical issue, and this again left a mark on what should have been a day of unalloyed good publicity for him. It didn’t help he was standing next to perhaps the best political orator currently on the planet.

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