Mon, 11 December 2023

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We need new rules to tackle the sleaze and rule-breaking that has become endemic of this government

3 min read

If there is one thing the past two years has shown us, it’s that you cannot trust Boris Johnson. Under his watch we’ve seen cronyism and rule breaking of the worst kind, at all levels of government.

We’ve seen big contracts given to Tory donors, blatant attempts to re-write the rules of Parliament to protect his friends, and tough words but slow action against Putin’s cronies here in the UK.

Let us not forget that Boris Johnson was accused of lying to the Queen when he unlawfully suspended Parliament in 2019, and of repeatedly lying to the public over numerous rule-breaking parties at No.10 during lockdown.

It is clear this government is content to break the rules time and time again.

Yes, we all know the official line is that “we must wait for the Met police investigation”, but as a former police officer I know that it doesn’t take a police report to see the extent this Prime Minister has gone to in order to cover this all up and get himself off the hook.

Dominic Cummings wasn’t fired for travelling to Barnard Castle in the peak of lockdown. Owen Paterson only resigned after the government failed to change the rules to get him out of trouble. And Priti Patel is still Home Secretary, despite being found to have breached the Ministerial Code numerous times.

Parliament cannot continue to operate on the basis of gentlemen's agreements and backdoor deals

This is dangerous. Not just because of the damage it does to this government’s credibility, but also the long-term impact this will have on how the public view politicians.

With Boris Johnson clearly believing it is one rule for him and another for everyone else, it is hardly surprising that public trust has tumbled to single figures – with just 5 per cent of the public believing politicians work for the good of the country.

This is a crisis for our democracy created by this shambolic Conservative government, who simply cannot be honest with the public, and a system which puts far too much power in the hands of the Prime Minister.

That is why this weekend at Liberal Democrat Conference, I will be bringing forward our plan to tackle the sleaze and rule-breaking that has become endemic amongst those in power.

Our plan would empower MPs to enable them to hold the government accountable and stand up for their constituents. It would also ensure that we have an independent set of rules to which government officials are held accountable.

The Ministerial Code – the rules that ministers must follow – must be made properly independent and put on a statutory footing, so they cannot be changed on the whim of the Prime Minister.

This will make sure we can have a clear set of sanctions for breaching the code, so that if ministers break the rules there are consequences for doing so.

And, most importantly the system for investigating rule-breaking, for publishing reports, and deciding on punishments should be independent.

At the moment, the Prime Minister decides what happens when his friends and colleagues break the rules – and if the public should even know about it. It is like having the defendant in a court case taking part in the jury.

These changes are not controversial; they are exactly the sort of thing you would expect in any other profession and workplace. We must embrace reforms like these if we are to begin to rebuild trust with the public. Parliament cannot continue to operate on the basis of gentlemen's agreements and backdoor deals.

This government has repeatedly broken the rules - now they must pay the price.


Wendy Chamberlain is the Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife.

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