Blog: The Guardian view on Boris Johnson: a pernicious influence on politics – The Guardian

Boris Johnson knew the rules, broke them and lied about it. That much is not disputed. The former prime minister accepts that statements he made to the Commons about parties in Downing Street during the pandemic were false. He has a police record for attending illegal gatherings. As the prime minister who imposed social restrictions and explained them on television, he cannot plausibly claim to have been ignorant of what constituted a breach.

The slender terrain on which Mr Johnson strives to clear his name is the insistence that other people told him his statements were correct and that he innocently believed them. Testifying to the Commons standards and privileges committee on Wednesday, he said those judging him could not access the truth in his heart, to which he alone had access, and he could report faithfully that it exonerated him.

It is a flimsy defence, amounting to a demand that MPs take him at his word – a notoriously unreliable guarantee, as even Mr Johnson’s supporters know. That is why they put as much effort into discrediting the committee as they have into parroting his arguments.

By casting the panel of MPs as a “kangaroo court” pursuing a partisan vendetta, the pro-Johnson faction is working to a populist template set before Partygate and the pandemic. The goal is to cast doubt on the legitimacy of a democratic institution if its decisions are deemed inconvenient. This is the vandalistic ethos that was expressed most egregiously in September 2019, with an unlawful dissolution of parliament to silence MPs who objected to a no-deal Brexit. Facing the committee on Wednesday, Mr Johnson displayed a familiar combination of disingenuous obfuscation and vanity, born of the arrogant supposition of entitlement to rule without submission to rules.

The habit of wanton irresponsibility is hard to shake, as was clear on a separate parliamentary stage on Wednesday – the vote on Rishi Sunak’s revisions to the Northern Ireland protocol of the Brexit withdrawal agreement. Twenty-two Tory MPs rebelled, including Mr Johnson and his immediate successor, Liz Truss.

The rebels’ objection to Mr Sunak’s proposed arrangements is another exercise in sophistry. The argument is that the Windsor framework leaves a residue of European regulatory jurisdiction in Northern Ireland – that it doesn’t fully dissolve a customs border in the Irish Sea. This analysis contains a damning verdict on the current situation – the very deal sold to the country by Mr Johnson as a triumph.

In other words, the hardline Tory Brexiters are complaining that Mr Sunak is fixing flaws in a bad deal, and asserting that the better solution would be to stick with a worse deal and have no solution at all. Their real objection cannot be declared openly. It is that the current prime minister has shamed his predecessor by proving that constructive negotiation in good faith gets results. Mr Johnson’s acolytes despise the Windsor framework because it is an emblem of realistic compromise that runs counter to the delusional utopian spirit of Euroscepticism as a nationalist liberation struggle.

There is a Tory faction that resents Mr Sunak for daring to grapple with the practical reality of Brexit and for helping to unseat Mr Johnson, who is the very incarnation of government in wilful denial of that reality. This is a pernicious force in British politics. Mercifully it appears to be shrinking and declining in relevance. But it poses a threat for as long as it has a purchase on other Conservatives and, through them, an influence on Downing Street. Until the Tories are prepared to repudiate Mr Johnson thoroughly and unconditionally, they cannot be declared fit for office.

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