Partygate fines: Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain during war, so Conservatives can ditch Boris Johnson despite Ukraine crisis – Christine Jardine MP

Every week, just as I am thinking “this time I can write about...” the UK Government goes and does something astonishing which grabs the headlines and changes the agenda – I don’t remember the last time that it was in a good way.
Winston Churchill became Prime Minister during the Second World War, but some Conservatives argue Russia's invasion of Ukraine means Boris Johnson must stay (Picture: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)Winston Churchill became Prime Minister during the Second World War, but some Conservatives argue Russia's invasion of Ukraine means Boris Johnson must stay (Picture: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Winston Churchill became Prime Minister during the Second World War, but some Conservatives argue Russia's invasion of Ukraine means Boris Johnson must stay (Picture: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This week I was planning to write about spending time on local issues in my constituency during Easter recess. Or perhaps my short parliamentary study trip to Switzerland to see how we can build on our relationship with that country.

Alas Number 10’s latest revelations have pressed pause on all of that. I feel for lifelong Conservatives, many of them my own friends and constituents, who are as confounded by their party leadership’s behaviour as anyone else.

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For we all now know for sure that, while the rest of us were going to endless lengths personally and professionally to abide by the rules set by the government, they were not. Unlike most of us, the Prime Minister was able to have a birthday party.

His supporters would have us believe that is a small misdemeanour, a surface blemish on his record. But for many of us it strikes deep, and hurts.

We all know people who went through the pain of not being able to say farewell to relatives. Who cancelled weddings and christenings. Or birthday parties. In some cases, significant milestones which turned out to be the last opportunity there would be to share time with them.

Of course, Boris Johnson is now also the first sitting Prime Minister in the UK who has been ‘punished’ for breaking the law.

Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, you have the right to expect not to be governed by those who have acted unlawfully.

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Especially when they assured the country, and Parliament, that they had not done so. Calls for both the Prime Minister and his Chancellor’s resignation have come from many, since their police fines were confirmed.

But there have been those, mainly Conservative MPs, who seem oblivious to the widespread public despair at their leadership’s breach of faith.

Instead they maintain that the Prime Minister should not resign as it would, in words often used "destabilise the UK government when we need to be united in the face of Russian aggression and the murdering of innocent Ukrainians”. As if the war in Ukraine could somehow be reduced to Boris’s get-out-of-jail-free card.

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Some must have whiplash as a result of their opinion of a Prime Minister whose position they said, before he was fined, was no longer tenable. Now that it has been confirmed he broke rules – rules passed by his government – they think he should stay.

Surely it is in the midst of an international crisis, when the horrors of war are being played out on our screens every day, that a country should be led by someone whose moral authority is not in question?

During the Second World War, when we were under direct threat in that horrific conflict, Neville Chamberlain was replaced by Winston Churchill.

And currently France, which is no less committed to the Ukrainian cause than we are, is in the midst of a presidential election. The USA held presidential elections at the height of the pandemic. Scotland went to the ballot box during that crisis too.

As an opposition MP, much of your time is spent with a fine-tooth comb, going through government proposals to ensure that they will actually deliver for the country. But now the situation we find ourselves in as we return after recess is wholly different.

It is no longer about the scrutiny of legislation presented by our leaders, but of the individuals themselves and their actions.

I, in common I am sure with many of my colleagues in all parties, am more determined than ever that those who have treated this country and its people with contempt should be accountable.

We were already planning to act following the revelations about the tax arrangements in the Chancellor’s own household.

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I will present a bill on behalf of the Lib Dems, to force ministers to reveal if their households are not paying their fair share or are using tax havens. We shouldn’t have to do this, but here we are. Government ministers have a duty to do what's morally right. When they change people's taxes, they must be transparent and show that they and their immediate families play by the same rules as everybody else.

Just as they should have done during lockdown over the Covid protections that they had put in place. Their households should be no different to the millions across the UK who now face the highest tax burden in decades as costs rise and people are afraid of having enough to get by.

In the eye of their self-created storm, this government stands at a crossroads.

We have, as a country, negotiated the worst of the terrain which the pandemic plunged us into only to face a war in Europe, rocketing fuel prices and a cost-of-living crisis.

For most of the past two years, we stood together and accepted the leadership of a government which people believed had kept faith and shared their burden. In the past few weeks, it has become increasingly clear that they betrayed that trust.

The Conservatives must now decide if they will heed those voices warning that they will not be forgiven if they do not act to restore that faith.

If they respond to pleas to change direction and put their leadership, the country’s leadership, in fresh, untainted hands.

I hope, for all our sakes, that they listen.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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