Former British Prime Minister John Major has accused Boris Johnson of making government look “distinctly shifty” and ultimately undermining democracy by dreaming up “brazen excuses” to explain away reports of COVID-19 lockdown-breaking events.
Mr Johnson is facing the gravest crisis yet since becoming prime minister in 2019 over a steady drip of reports of boozy events in his Downing Street office and residence when Britain was under strict coronavirus restrictions.
He has refused growing calls, including from some in his own governing Conservative Party, to quit, asking lawmakers to wait for a police investigation to conclude whether the law was broken and promising to reshape his administration.
But Major, also a Conservative who was prime minister between 1990 and 1997, accused Mr Johnson’s administration of undermining government at home and abroad by using a raft of excuses to try to defend the prime minister and challenging the rule of law.
“At No.10, the prime minister and officials broke lockdown laws. Brazen excuses were dreamed up. 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,” he said in a speech to the Institute for Government.
“Collectively, this has made the government look distinctly shifty … Unfortunately, that trust is being lost, and our reputation overseas has fallen because of our conduct. We are weakening our influence in the world.”
Mr Major did not stop there in his criticism of Mr Johnson’s government, accusing it of running roughshod over the law by suspending parliament just to avoid Brexit debates “that might not have gone as they wished”, and then by threatening to break international law in “a limited but specific way”.
At the time, at the height of negotiations between Britain and the European Union, Mr Johnson defended the moves, with officials saying they were necessary to push those talks ahead.
“The charge that there is one law for the government, and one for everyone else is politically deadly – and it has struck home,” Mr Major said.
“…Democracy is a life-long companion, not a passing fancy. Trust, integrity and values are the structure upon which our democracy is founded.”