73. Are you still here, BJ?

Letter to a Tory MP

Peter Burke
Oxford For Europe

20 April 2022

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So many Tory MPs told us the PM’s position would be untenable if the police found he had broached Covid rules he himself wrote. Yet he is still in post. Why?

To Sir Roger Hapless MP
Widget Bottom and Little Toading West

20 April 2022

Dear Sir Roger

Thank you very much for informing us that in your opinion the prime minister was innocent of the charges which have been levelled against him. Since yesterday’s statement in parliament, I am sure you would agree that this is no longer a matter of opinion. The prime minister offered an abject apology on his own behalf, something which would have been inappropriate had he not admitted responsibility for breaking the rules. To deny doing so would have been very difficult as he has in fact already paid the fine, knowing that the alternative would have been to defend the charges in court, and no doubt he made a calculation that this would have been difficult or impossible. He was therefore contradicting his previous assertion that no rules had been broken, an assertion for which he has at no time subsequently made any attempt to correct the record.

When he stated “I am informed that no rules were broken“ this was open at the time to the interpretation either that “I am informed that nothing happened“ or “I know that something happened but I was informed by those in the know that it was not illegal“. The first of his interpretations is no longer tenable in the light of the police investigations. The second is not only at variance with the clear evidence of Dominic Cummings, but is effectively the defence of ignorance before the law. That of course is no defence at all, even when offered by somebody other than the author of the law in question. Even in yesterday‘s statement there was an implied attempt to pass on the guilt. When the prime minister stated “I have already made significant steps to change the way things work in Number 10”, he was telling us that he was ridding Downing Street of those responsible. In reality we know that responsibility rests with the person in charge. If he witnessed others breaking the rules and did not intervene then that is something for which he personally must be held accountable.

I note that last night he spoke to the 1922 Committee – you may well have been there – and in effect rolled back even on the mealy mouthed apology which he gave in the House. And today at PMQs he continued to dissemble at best., and further he declined an invitation to confirm that he would publish Sue Grey’s report at the first opportunity – what has he got to hide?

If he is seeking forgiveness from his MPs and the public for breaking the law, then of course the first thing he must do is stop breaking the law. The opposite is the case. He and the Home Secretary are currently pressing forward with an attempt to deport bona fide asylum seekers to Rwanda, with no prospect of return. This is in clear breach of the Refugee Convention 1951, to which the UK is still a signatory. Even your former party leader, Theresa May, whom I know you admire, has pointed this out. It is not a matter of opinion but a matter of fact. I think Mr Johnson‘s backbenchers have a right to ask him “when is the lawbreaking going to stop?”.

Tomorrow you will have the opportunity to vote on whether the allegations of an egregious breach of Parliamentary standards should be referred to the Commons Privileges Committee. This committee, I need hardly remind you, could not be accused of anti-Conservative bias: the majority of its members (4/7) belong to your party. If the prime minister feels that he is innocent of the charges, then surely he would wish for the opportunity to clear his name. He is evidently pressing his MPs to vote against the reference, in the hope that this whole affair will go away. As is becoming increasingly obvious, that is not going to happen. If an honest and objective inquiry is blocked, that can only be seen by the public as a deeply disreputable cover-up, and those who support this decision will be rightly seen to have colluded with lying, to the great discredit of the Tory party, especially in the run-up to important local elections.

You may perhaps respond that now, with the Ukraine crisis, is not the time for a change of Prime Minister. That is no doubt what the PM himself will say, and that is part of the problem. He has shown willingness to use the Ukraine crisis, as he has done before with Covid, to distract from his own behaviour. This is evidence of the total unwillingness to take responsibility which is so much his hallmark. At a time like this, more than ever, we need statesmanlike leaders who are held in respect around the world. How can he preach to others – Putin included – about respect for the law when he himself treats it with such contempt?

Theresa May spoke for many when she pointed out that he had not known the rules he himself wrote, or thought the rules did not apply to him. Andrew Mitchell, previously a loyal supporter, has told us that the PM’s behaviour has forced him to change his mind. Now colleagues of yours such as Mark Harper, whom one might normally expect to be Johnson loyalists, have had the courage of their convictions, have stood up and said that the prime minister has behaved dishonestly. I very much hope that, in the light of the prime minister’s unsatisfactory answer yesterday, you will follow that lead.

Best wishes


Dear Mr Rees Mogg,

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