Boris Johnson leaves an alarming legacy of lasting damage – Ian Swanson
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Relief that despite his insistence the night before he was staying on, he had finally realised his position was untenable. And relief that "Britain's worst Prime Minister" was leaving the stage.
He has been in Downing Street for less than three years, but his legacy could prove far-reaching and extremely damaging.
Johnson's behaviour in government showed a total disregard for standards, ethics, rules or accountability.
His premiership upended well-established convention, overturned accepted norms and undermined basic trust. And in doing so, it has weakened the whole political and constitutional system.
The unprecedented record of disreputable behaviour included proroguing parliament unlawfully, breaking his own lockdown laws, handing out billions of pounds worth of Covid contracts to cronies, having to apologise to the Queen for partying at Downing Street of the eve of her husband’s funeral, refusing to sack special adviser Dominic Cumming over his rule-breaking trip to Durham or Home Secretary Priti Patel for bullying staff, misleading parliament, giving newspaper owner Evgeny Lebedev a peerage despite MI5’s concerns, and appointing Tory MP Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip despite knowing about allegations of sexual assault.
Johnson will soon be gone. But the trouble with unprecedented behaviour is once it has happened it won’t be unprecedented the next time.
Something once unthinkable will, in future, be seen at least as an option for an unscrupulous successor. If Johnson could shut down parliament without suffering any consequences, why should another Prime Minister not try it?
If he could ignore the independent finding that the Home Secretary bullied staff and keep her in post, why should such conduct be a barrier to office in future? If he could lie, break the law and abuse his power to benefit his friends, why should any successor not follow his example?
Johnson has often been called the British Trump and, while there are clearly distinctions to be made, their attitudes to office and power are disturbingly similar.
Of course, there was no incitement for an armed mob to march on parliament, but the two men displayed the same stubborn determination to cling on to power even when it was clear their time was up; and they made the same arrogant claim that the voters still wanted them despite clear evidence to the contrary. They also share the same inability to acknowledge they have done anything wrong.
And just as there was serious talk about invoking the 25th amendment to remove Trump as unfit for office in his last few weeks as president, there is concern that Johnson cannot be trusted to stay on as caretaker Prime Minister while the Tories choose a new leader.
It is particularly worrying that this extension of his time in Downing Street comes over the summer, when parliament is in recess and there is therefore no-one to scrutinise his actions or hold him to account.
Trump is lining himself up for a bid to return to the White House at the next presidential election. At least there is no serious talk about a comeback for Johnson – so far.