Monday, December 4

It is a scandal that Boris Johnson ever made it to number 10, and it is shameful that he is still there | jonathan freeland

IIt has come to something when there is more accountability in a hereditary monarchy than in our elected government. Even at Buckingham Palace there are consequences for one’s actions, as Prince Andrew learned Thursday when he was stripped of his jobs. In the Palace of Westminster, not so much.

The contrast could hardly be sharper. On the one hand, a Queen so determined to prove she was not above the rules that she cried alone as she buried the man she had loved for 73 years. On the other, a prime minister running Downing Street as a frat house, where the suitcase reportedly brought bottles and they danced in the basement even on the eve of that stark royal funeral, even in the middle of a lockdown.

And yet Johnson remains in his post, their titles are still his to wear. There is confident talk, reported to newspapers, who will get away with it. His team is already looking ahead to Civil Service Inquisitor Sue Gray’s report, suggesting that she won’t find any criminal offenses, deliberately misinterpreting the role of her investigation, setting the bar low enough for Johnson to say That has cleared it up and we should all move on.

Meanwhile, his supporters, and even some of his opponents, are figuring out what is best for them: take him out or let him stay. There are Tories looking at the calendar, asking if the May local elections may be the time. There are Labor folks wondering if it would be useful to have a weakened Johnson to hit between now and the next general election.

I understand all those calculations. But what does it mean for our system if it is allowed to hold on? What does it say about us?

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What would you say, for example, about our perennial boast that we are a society bound by the rule of law that the man who sets the rules can break them and break them so egregiously? I know it’s hard to keep track, but the party we were all concentrating on before the basement nightclub reveal was May 20, 2020, when lockdown was still a relative novelty and most Brits were they watched over themselves with extraordinary self-discipline and self-sacrifice Johnson says he went to that garden party, attended by his wife and some of his friends, where gin and rosé flowed, and he thought he was at a ” job”. No one in their right mind believes that to be true. But if you stay at your job, we’re saying we accept it.

What will he say about the supposedly unshakable convention that a minister who lies or cheats in the House of Commons has to resign? Johnson was guilty of that Wednesday with that “work event” nonsense, but it wasn’t the first time. On December 1 of last year, when asked to grill which of Downing Street’s seemingly daily parties had just been revealed, Johnson told the parliamentarians “The entire guide was completely followed at No. 10.” Obviously, that was untrue, and he must have known it was untrue because he himself had attended a rule-breaking party on May 20, 2020. Whatever elaborate output he tries to build, we can all see the truth. If Johnson’s lie goes unpunished, a convention that was developed to allow the public to feel a basic level of confidence in his government will have been shattered.

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That will damage our democratic health, but what will it mean for our literal health if Johnson is allowed to stay? If there were a new serious variant of this disease, one that requires a return to total confinement, it is clear that he could not impose it. The country would simply refuse to take instructions from a man who so blatantly laughed in its face last time. In fact, it is not clear that any government can re-impose such restrictions: the electorate might well conclude from this episode that all politicians and their officials are as hypocritical as the current gang within No. 10 and refuse to comply. That is a grim possibility. But with Johnson himself, it’s safe. The country cannot navigate a public health crisis with this man at the helm. If that was true of Matt Hancock making out with his lover, a point Johnson recognized when he accepted Hancock’s resignation, then it is a hundred times more true of him.

Of course, there were multiple reasons for removing Johnson, even before we knew he had turned Downing Street into Studio 54 in Whitehall. On Wednesday, the high court ruled that the government’s use of a “VIP lane” for the allocation of lucrative PPE contracts during the first wave of the pandemic was illegal, once again exposing a pattern of behavior that If it were detected in any country other than ours, we would call it corruption. What does it say about us that no one thinks for a minute that Johnson will be expelled for any of that?

There will be many now waiting for Sue Gray to ride to the rescue, to unambiguously convict the prime minister in calm mandarin prose. But it’s a fantasy, just as it was a fantasy to expect Robert Mueller to topple Donald Trump through collusion with Russia, or for Robin Butler to do so. eliminate Tony Blair over Iraq. I spoke with Lord Butler on Friday and he reminded me that investigations of this type are not to plead guilt or innocence, but only to establish the facts. He believes Gray will expose “what happened. It is then for other people to come to court ”. Those others will include the police, who will determine if there is evidence of criminal activity. That’s your job, not Gray’s. That is why it is so dishonest of Downing Street to report that the official will comment on a question that has not been asked.

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Johnson’s fate will be decided not by her, but by politics: initially by parliamentarians and, if necessary, by the people. Johnson’s former editor at the Telegraph, Max Hastings, once wrote that if Johnson, a man who believed he would “not recognize the truth if confronted in an identity parade” became prime minister, he would show that Britain would no longer it was “a serious country.” ”. If we allow Johnson to remain prime minister, given everything he’s done and everything we’ve seen, he would say something much, much worse.

  • Jonathan Freedland is a columnist for The Guardian

  • Join our journalists for a Guardian Live online event on the 10th lockdown party and Boris Johnson’s future at 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm GMT on Wednesday, January 19. Reserve here

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