Voices: Boris and the Blob: Johnson’s bogus denial is straight from the Trump playbook
Okay, I know we live in a litigious world – one where the happiest and richest people around are the lawyers – but things are getting ridiculous.
Prince Harry has about four cases on the go, depending on whether he can revive his attempt to gain the right to hire the British police as a personal security force from time to time. Donald Trump, no stranger to legal action, is facing some quite serious lawsuits.
Now comes Boris Johnson’s “Trumpian” threat to sue the government for pursuing a supposed vendetta against him. He is indeed resorting to the Trump playbook – splenetic denial, counter-allegation of conspiracy, threat of legal retaliation. It’s all a bluff.
Apparently, Johnson is the victim of some nonsensical “conspiracy” by “the blob”. Trump did actually once call Johnson “Britain’s Trump”, and now our former PM is developing a similar talent to Trump’s for generating outlandish fake news – a plot to destroy Brexiteers one by one, orchestrated by the "deep state" civil service and the media. Patel, Paterson, Pincher, Johnson, Kwarteng, Truss (honourary Brexiteer) Zahawi, Raab, Braverman and now Johnson again. If I were them, though, I wouldn’t want to advertise the apparently strong link between supporting Brexit and breaking the rules.
The possible breaches of the Covid rules by Johnson haven’t been fabricated. He isn’t being framed. The details were discovered by lawyers, and paid for by the taxpayer. This is, of course, the set of lawyers paid for by the government to assist Johnson in presenting his case to the Hallett inquiry into the response to the pandemic.
Another set of legal minds, costing something like £300,000, were hired by the government on behalf of Johnson to advise him in his quest to prove he’s not a liar – a tall order. On that count I suspect even the distinguished Lord Pannick KC would find himself at a loss. Indeed, even the legendary Norman Birkett KC (who never lost a murder case in his long career) couldn’t save Johnson from strangling the British constitution to death. In any case, the state has been kind to him, and is not obviously out to get him.
Like Trump, Johnson’s careless attitude to truth has terrible real-world consequences. Think of the £350m a week for the NHS on the side of his Brexit battle-bus, and other assorted fictions, which gifted us the fractured economy of today; or when he told MPs that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “teaching journalism” in Iran, and she was put on trial again.
We got used to it, but we shouldn’t have, and we didn’t when we eventually found out about Partygate. Johnson must have thought he’d gotten away with it, because all he ever got was one fine from a fixed penalty notice (not therefore even technically guilty of a criminal offence); plus a grilling by Harriet Harman and her colleagues on the Commons Privileges Committee (though the political consequences of that may yet prove fatal).
Johnson’s defence during Partygate was that he didn’t know what was happening; that he wasn’t there; they were all work colleagues; the gatherings were essential for work; things were hectic; the “few” in Downing Street were heroically reliving the summer of 1940 and hadn’t time for silly rules; it was just a bit of cake… that sort of thing.
Now, however, we have documentary evidence of precisely when he was at Chequers and the names of the friends and family (aka witnesses and potential transgressors) who were present at what cannot be classified as work events, even on the most generous reading. Johnson says it’s a “stitch-up”, but the tragic thing is that he’s stitched himself up. His arrogance, his over-confident belief that he can beat the system, has caught up with him.
The ironies are comical. Johnson’s own lawyers who are supposed to be helping him (but with the government paying the bills as client) have shopped him to the Cabinet Office that was once his own control centre, and the civil servants have in turn reported him to the Metropolitan Police and the Thames Valley force for breaches of the Covid laws. The truth seems to be catching up with him, and shredding what little is left of his political credibility.
I suppose you could argue that no one asked Johnson if there had been parties at Chequers, so he didn’t actually mislead parliament about that. But it seems he might have had the same personal insouciance about the rules he expected the rest of us to follow at Chequers as he did in Downing Street, which cannot come as a surprise.
It will damage him. It reminds us that he was always unfit for office and, with his bluster about taking the state to court, it really doesn’t feel like he’s ever going to be allowed near power again. He’ll almost certainly never host another party at Downing Street and Chequers.