Former UK premier in blistering attack on Boris Johnson

Published February 11, 2022
Former British prime minister John Major answers questions after giving a speech on trust and standards in democracy at the Institute for Government, in London, Britain, on Thursday. — Reuters
Former British prime minister John Major answers questions after giving a speech on trust and standards in democracy at the Institute for Government, in London, Britain, on Thursday. — Reuters

LONDON: British ex-premier John Major on Thursday accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of breaking Covid laws and fostering public “contempt” for politics, as police prepared to grill Downing Street party-goers.

The unusually blunt attack from Major on his Conser­vative colleague underlined the political jeopardy John­son faces with several lawmakers from the ruling party calling publicly for his resignation.

Police are now reviewing a December 2020 event in Downing Street, after the Daily Mirror printed a photo of Johnson and two colleagues — one draped in tinsel — near an open bottle of sparkling wine.

On a visit to Nato headquarters in Brussels, Johnson was asked if he would resign if he is fined by police for breaching Covid restrictions on social gatherings.

“That process must be completed and I’m looking forward to it being completed, and that’s the time to say more on that,” he told reporters. Major, prime minister from 1990 to 1997, stopped short himself of demanding that Johnson step down, but said any other leader found to have deliberately misled parliament would feel compelled to quit.

“At Number 10, the prime minister and officials broke lockdown laws. Brazen excu­ses were dreamed up,” he said in a speech to the Insti­tute for Government think-tank.

“Day after day the public was asked to believe the unbelievable. Ministers were sent out to defend the indefensible, making themselves look gullible or foolish as they did so,” he said.

“Collectively, this has made the government look distinctly shifty, which has consequences that go far beyond political unpopularity.” Britain’s international reputation had taken a blow, Major said, accusing Johnson of undermining peace in Northern Ireland by failing to understand what he signed up for with Brexit.

“Too often ministers have been evasive and the truth has seemed to be optional,” he added. “Outright lies breed contempt.” Major is the second of Johnson’s Conservative predecessors in the post to criticise him over the “partygate” revelations.

Last week, Theresa May told parliament a civil servant’s report into the events showed that Downing Street “was not observing the regulations they had imposed on members of the public”.

She asked Johnson to clarify whether he “had not read the rules or didn’t understand what they meant and others around him, or they didn’t think the rules applied to Number 10”. In response to Major’s speech, Johnson’s official spokesman said: “Obviously people are free to give their opinions.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2022

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