Boris Johnson and populist Brexiteers are attacking UK institutions in an unconservative and dangerous way – Scotsman comment
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the guiding principles of the Conservative party include “the promotion of private property and enterprise, the maintenance of a strong military, and the preservation of traditional cultural values and institutions”. And those institutions certainly include democracy and the rule of law.
However, the reaction by Boris Johnson and his supporters to the news that Cabinet Office officials had passed documents about him to the police – over concerns they might contain evidence of further breaches of lockdown laws – suggests they are prepared to engage in dangerous iconoclasm when it suits them.
It is perfectly reasonable for Johnson to defend himself against the substance of the allegations, as his spokesperson did, saying “the events in question were all within the rules”. But to then add that “many will conclude that this has all the hallmarks of yet another politically motivated stitch-up” was a tactic straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook – for “stitch-up” read “witchhunt”.
This is dangerous. It is a deliberate attempt to undermine faith in government officials who were required by civil service rules to hand over the documents as they suspected potential criminality. Even if the police conclude the rules were not broken, they were still right to do this if they had concerns.
Were this an isolated incident, it could be dismissed as an error of judgment in the heat of the moment. However, hard-line Brexiteers are increasingly complaining that their ambitions are being thwarted by a “blob” within Whitehall – for “blob” read the Washington “swamp” that Trump promised to drain.
The UK is still far from a situation where a mob attacks the heart of our democracy in an attempt to overturn an election result, as Trump’s supporters did on January 6, 2021. However, eroding public confidence in this country’s most important institutions – and the British civil service is known for its diligence and impartiality – risks laying the groundwork for something of that ilk. As the Brexit dream sours and its populist champions falter, they are lashing out, hoping to supplant reason with emotion. They must not succeed.
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