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24 May 2023

Boris Johnson (still) thinks his ego is worth dividing the Tories for

He’d rather blame yet another police referral on political enemies than leave politics.

By Martin Fletcher

This was supposed to be a good week for Boris Johnson. It started with a visit to Texas that included lunch with the former president George W Bush and a meeting with Greg Abbott, the state governor. Tonight (24 May) he is due to deliver what is probably another fantastically lucrative speech, this time to the Scale Global Summit in a Las Vegas casino. All the while, back in Britain, taxpayer-funded lawyers would be quietly beavering away on his defence for the public inquiry into how the government handled the Covid crisis.

It has not worked out like that. In a delicious irony, those same lawyers have discovered entries in Johnson’s diaries suggesting friends and relatives visited him at Chequers in breach of those lockdown rules. The lawyers alerted the Cabinet Office, which was obliged by civil service rules to inform the police.

Cue outrage on the part of Johnson’s few remaining supporters. His spokesperson claimed it was “yet another politically motivated stitch-up” – a claim seized on by the sycophantic Telegraph, Mail and Express. Parliamentary “allies”, citing last weekend’s leaks about Suella Braverman’s speeding ticket, talked of “witch hunts” against Rishi Sunak’s opponents. Johnson himself flatly denied the charges against him, but then he has a long record of issuing unequivocal denials that have later proved false. Remember his “inverted pyramid of piffle”, or “no rules were broken”?

Perhaps the Whitehall “blob” was responsible for this latest revelation, and who could blame it? For years the civil service was impugned, maligned and ridiculed by Johnson and his ministerial cronies for their failure to deliver on their own undeliverable promises.

Perhaps Sunak and his allies were responsible, though Alex Chalk, the Justice Secretary, denied any ministerial involvement. There is certainly no love lost between the Prime Minister and the man who blames Sunak for his downfall and still dreams of returning to No 10. Johnson supporters have noted that Oliver Dowden, the most senior minister in the Cabinet Office, is one of Sunak’s closest political friends.

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But the most likely explanation is the most obvious: that the lawyers and Cabinet Office simply did the right thing when faced with seemingly incontrovertible evidence that Johnson flouted the draconian rules he imposed on everybody else during those protracted lockdowns; that he continued to see his friends and relatives when the rest of us could not attend funerals, weddings, christenings and the births and deaths of loved ones.

Whatever the truth, the net appears to be steadily tightening on the “greased piglet”. He has once again been referred to the police, the Privileges Committee has been informed of the new developments, and his support within the party and the country is collapsing. Indeed Johnson’s slim majority in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency looks increasingly indefensible. 

Were it not for his giant ego, he would surely be tempted to quit politics, retreat to the £3.8m Oxfordshire mansion he has just bought through cashing in on his disastrous premiership, and “spend more time” – as the euphemism goes – with his relentlessly expanding family.

As it is, he clings on, causing yet more damage and division within a party that is beginning to tear itself apart as it faces near certain defeat in next year’s general election. He continues to hog the limelight, distracting and detracting from Rishi Sunak’s efforts to drag the Conservatives from the mire into which Johnson plunged it. The interminable partygate scandal rolls on, reminding voters just why they hate the Conservatives so much. 

Still to come: Johnson’s crony-packed resignation honours list.

[See also: Sunak is too busy firefighting in his own party to govern]

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