Boris Johnson’s position is untenable – Tory MPs have a responsibility to remove him
If there is a characteristic that lawyers who have done a lot of trial-work share, it’s a tendency to submit words both written and spoken to analysis as to meaning, because it is often in those small details that lies the path to an understanding of a bigger picture.
It was with this in mind that I found myself looking at the interim Sue Gray Report. Shorn of both detail and finality by the intervention of the Metropolitan Police. Its civil service terseness is however suggestive of the existence of a great deal of detailed factual evidence of both chaotic lack of leadership and wrongdoing.
Some behaviour at the “gatherings”, we are told, set against the Covid regulations and how the public was being affected by Covid, was “difficult to justify”. Some of the events constituted a “serious failure to observe standards” and “should not have been allowed to take place”, or in other cases to “develop as they did”.
There were at different times “failures of leadership and judgement” by both parts of Number 10 and the Cabinet Office. The leadership structures in Number 10 were “blurred and fragmented” and “too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the PM”. Added to this we were informed that there were 16 “gatherings” identified in all, of which 12 were being looked at by the police and there are some 300 relevant photographs of the events and 500 pages of statements.
There are a lot of loyal Conservatives who are never going to vote for the Party again as long as Boris Johnson remains in office
All this had then to be juxtaposed with the Prime Minister’s statement to the House. He started with what he described as an apology, but it became immediately apparent that none of it was intended to be personal to him at all.
Boris Johnson spoke of “we” in respect of the identified failures of leadership and made no attempt to apologise for any role he might himself have had in these matters. He offered to reform the systems of work at Number 10 and the behaviour of others but when pressed about his own behaviour and leadership he engaged in the displacement activity of a naughty six-year-old, reeling off irrelevant lists of unrelated actions in which he might claim credit.
He also irrelevantly and entirely falsely smeared Keir Starmer for a failure to prosecute Jimmy Saville. When asked a straightforward question of whether he had attended the event in his flat on 13 November 2020, he refused to answer. The Prime Minister flippantly retorted to Theresa May’s pertinent question of whether, in his view, the matters reported on were the result of a deliberate breaching of the Covid rules, or a failure to read them or understand them. He replied, “this was not what the report says”.
Had this performance taken place in a court, where in the past I used to find myself with an often superficially amusing client in a spot of bother, I would not expect a successful outcome. But Parliament is not the same and the political reality is that in the immediate term his future lies in the hands of Conservative MPs who, with notable exceptions, seem paralysed by their responsibility. Yet they ought to see that as a matter of ethics in government and observance of the ministerial code the Prime Minister’s position is untenable.
If he is not made to go now, the issue is going to come back again and again as the fuller picture emerges. Even if they have no understanding of ethics in government, a baser instinct for self-preservation might make them ask themselves why the electorate should forget this dismal performance and the scandal of the background facts.
There are a lot of loyal Conservatives who are never going to vote for the Party again as long as Boris Johnson remains in office.
Dominic Grieve is the former Conservative and Independent MP for Beaconsfield.
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