Boris Johnson's lies and lockdown breaches are profoundly serious – Scotsman comment

There are some people, including, importantly, a significant number of Conservative MPs, who appear to believe the so-called Partygate scandal engulfing Boris Johnson is a trivial matter.

In attempting to defend himself in the Commons yesterday, Johnson made clear this is his opinion. The public, he said, wanted their elected representatives to focus on “the issues that matter to them”.

However, the internal inquiry by Sue Gray has now revealed there were at least 16 “gatherings” in Downing Street and Whitehall and, of those, 12 – including one in the Prime Minister’s flat – are currently being investigated by the police for breaches of the law.

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In an update on her findings, Gray wrote: “… some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify. At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.”

She noted that staff in Downing Street were working long hours in difficult circumstances, but added it was “important to remember the stringency of the public health regulations in force in England over the relevant periods and that criminal sanctions were applied to many found to be in breach of them”. "The hardship under which citizens across the country worked, lived and sadly even died while observing the government’s regulations and guidance rigorously are known only too well,” Gray added.

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This clearly contradicts multiple statements made by Johnson – such as “I can tell you that the guidelines were followed at all times” – over the past two months.

That statement was simply untrue but, in accordance with parliamentary protocol, it was the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford who found himself expelled from the Commons for accusing Johnson of lying and misleading the House, not Johnson.

Boris Johnson should resign or be forced out by Conservative MPs (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)Boris Johnson should resign or be forced out by Conservative MPs (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson should resign or be forced out by Conservative MPs (Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

We were therefore presented with a ridiculous situation: the liar defiantly remained, while the person who spoke the truth was forced to leave.

Earlier in the debate, normal party politics was partially suspended, as Labour leader Keir Starmer enlisted the support of Margaret Thatcher, noting she had once said: “The first duty of government is to uphold the law. If it tries to bob and weave and duck around that duty when it is inconvenient, then so will the governed.”

And Blackford praised former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May after she pointed out the public had a right to expect the Prime Minister would “set an example” by following the rules, and that either Johnson had not read them, did not understand them or had decided they did not apply to his circle.

Johnson should have already resigned for the same reasons as Health Secretary Matt Hancock and others were forced to do so after breaching lockdown regulations.

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Rule-makers cannot be rule-breakers. There cannot be heavy fines levied on the ordinary public for actions that the ruling elite are allowed to engage in with wanton abandon. For a time, it appears 10 Downing Street became the hottest nightclub ticket in the country – because it was the only one in the country.

However, Johnson’s persistent denials have made the situation even more serious. If Conservative MPs continue to support him and he remains in office, then it will give a free pass to a Prime Minister now infamous for dishonesty to continue to act as if he is untouchable. We should remember that this is a man who illegally suspended parliament in order to prevent effective scrutiny of his government’s Brexit legislation.

As Conservative MPs await the findings of the police’s criminal investigation, they must think very carefully about the character of their leader as he “bobs and weaves and ducks” around the truth. And, for those who doubt it, the integrity of the Prime Minister is an issue of great importance to the British public.

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