Our Prime Minister lied to the Queen. He lies all the time, of course, so there’s nothing all that surprising in this, but what is a bit unusual is that at 10.30 this morning the Scottish Court of Session, which is the Supreme Court of Scotland, actually ruled that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom lied to the Queen.
When I say it’s a bit unusual, what I really mean is that it has never happened before. Boris Johnson is the first Prime Minister to have been found by a court to have misled a king or queen.
And it wasn’t just a white lie. It wasn’t just a “you look fab in that dress, ma’am” at Balmoral last weekend, or a “yes, absolutely, Andrew’s a great guy” kind of lie. What the court has ruled is that our Prime Minister lied to the Queen about his reasons for suspending Parliament. He told us, and the nation, that it was all about law, order, the NHS and the sudden, burning need for a new Queen’s Speech.
We all knew it was about Brexit. His own ministers knew it was about Brexit, and one, defence secretary Ben Wallace, was caught on camera saying so.
But Boris Johnson is so used to lying that he doesn’t even bother to hide his lies. He says he doesn’t want an election when everyone knows he does. (And then gets so confused that he says he does and has to correct himself.) He says he’s “straining every sinew” to negotiate a new Brexit deal, but brings no new proposals to the EU, cabinet or anywhere else.
And now the Inner House of the Court of Session has ruled that “the Prime Minister’s advice to HM the Queen that the United Kingdom Parliament should be prorogued from a day between 9 and 12 September until 14 October was unlawful because it had the purpose of stymying Parliament”.
Unlawful. That’s not “unusual”, “cynical”, “inappropriate” or “unethical”. It’s “unlawful” as in breaking the law. The court ruled that the prorogation “had occurred as a tactic to frustrate Parliament” and was “an egregious case of a clear failure to comply with the generally accepted standards of behaviour of public authorities”. It concluded that “the principle reasons for the prorogation were to prevent or impede Parliament holding the executive to account and legislating with regard to Brexit, and to allow the executive to pursue a policy of a no deal Brexit without further Parliamentary interference”.
Well, well, well. The court reached the conclusions that pretty much anyone with a pair of eyes and ears would have reached, but in the new Alice-in-Wonderland world of British politics, it feels genuinely shocking when someone in a position of authority says something that corresponds with weird, old-fashioned things like facts and truth.
In 1982, a teacher at Eton sent a letter to Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley. “Boris sometimes seems affronted when criticised for what amounts to a gross failure of responsibility,” he wrote. “I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.”
You’re telling me. This man believes he is above convention, above ethics, above the constitution and above the law. He has been extremely vocal about his plans to break the law. From the moment it was clear that a law would be passed that would compel him to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50, if he didn’t succeed in getting a Brexit deal, he has been saying that he will ignore it.
Let me make that clearer. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has been telling anyone who will listen – and trust me, we are listening – that he will not observe the rule of the law.
This is new territory, and it’s terrifying.
If you’d been a Martian taking a crash course in British politics, last week would have offered an embarrassment of riches:
A Prime Minister with an international reputation as a brilliant rhetorician who gave such excruciating performances in the House of Commons that some of us felt flickers of compassion we never, ever thought we’d feel. (So excruciating, in fact, that he made Jeremy Corbyn look like a statesman.)
A Government that started the week with a majority of one and ended with a working majority of minus 43.
A Government that lost six votes in six days, before shutting Parliament down.
A Government now compelled by Parliament to publish the Operation Yellowhammer documents about its no-deal plans, and messages relating to the suspension of Parliament by Dominic Cummings on WhatsApp, Facebook and social media. But which probably won’t because Parliament is, you know, shut down.
A Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, lying languidly on a House of Commons bench throughout one of the key debates, in a pose that literally could not have done more to suggest the contempt of the hedge-fund-owning ruling classes for mere elected politicians.
A Prime Minister giving the worst speech of his life against a backdrop that literally collapsed behind him. The backdrop was young police officers, and when one of them nearly fainted, perhaps overcome by the horror, Boris just bumbled on.
To be fair to him, he had just heard that his own brother had resigned from Government in order to “put the national interest first”. Two days before, 21 of his most highly respected colleagues gave up the whip, and their jobs, for the same reason. But blood’s different, right? Blood gives you pause for thought. Or it would if you were not a raging narcissist hell-bent on the destruction of your country.
By the time Amber Rudd resigned on Saturday night, claiming that her boss’s sacking of the 21 MPs was “an assault on decency and democracy” and “an act of political vandalism”, pundits practically yawned. Just another day in Basket-case Britain, as its new rulers seek to tear up every convention and every rule. This, apparently, is all part of the Cummings masterplan. Chaos and then, out of the ashes, the Boris phoenix rises.
What Boris Johnson said, in front of those police officers, was that he would rather “be dead in a ditch” than ask for a delay to Brexit. When an Irish journalist pointed out, at his press conference with Leo Varadkar on Monday, that such comments implied that he didn’t understand what was “at stake”, the Prime Minister rolled his eyes.
Boris doesn’t like to talk about tedious things like tariffs, customs unions and the Good Friday Agreement. He likes to meet people who say they “just want to get it done”. Which, if the polls are to be believed, is now most people in the country.
In order not to break his pledge of leaving by 31st October, he may now actually try to get a deal. Amber Rudd said in an interview in the Sunday Times that 80 – 90% of the efforts have so far been to do with no deal. Our PM doesn’t like homework and hasn’t done any, but he might have to rustle some up now PDQ. That currently looks like the only feasible way not to break the one promise in his life he would quite like to keep.
And if he doesn’t get a deal, or if he does and it doesn’t pass? Well, then he’ll have to be a martyr for Brexit. He’ll claim that judges foiled him, Parliament foiled him, the EU foiled him, everyone foiled him, and now he will have to rouse a “people’s army” to fight for the glorious Brexit that has been snatched from its jaws. But he will have to promise “no deal” to see off the Brexit party and win.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit policy is about as snappy as the terms and conditions for free wifi no one reads and everyone ticks.
God only knows what will happen in the next few months. It’s certainly prime entertainment, but perhaps only if you like snuff movies, and the kind where you suddenly realise that you’ve been cast in the starring role.