I am not a Boris apologist (honest! - and I have not read the advice in detail) but…

I was under the impression that the key point of the advice was that if a PM can be censured for telling stuff to Parliament what he thought to be true at the time but which later turns out to be not the case then a dangerous precedent would be set. The implication being that a PM could not say anything that might be proved wrong in the future and that would massively curtail that PM’s ability to act in the moment.

I believe this is the central issue of “contempt” as set out in your piece.

I agree that the additional stuff – essentially about the inappropriateness of constraining the enquiry - has merit.

Whether Boris did think that the claims that he made were indeed true at the time is central to the case. I get a strong impression that your argument is that Boris lied so often that it is almost a statistical reality that this is just another lie in a long list of them. A view particularly appropriate for a qualified actuary. Of course proving this beyond reasonable doubt (as you would have to in a court of law) does depend on the confidence range used. There will aways be a chance ( albeit a small one ) that Boris did not lie in this case.

I must say holding future PMs to ransom in this way is not appropriate – although identifying bare faced liars is and there is merit in encouraging PMs to get their facts right in the first place. Indeed I resigned from the labour party (both in sorrow and disgust) a while back when it became clear that Blair’s dossier on WMD was not all it was cracked up to be.

Of course if he gets censured for telling parliament porky pies – which he knew were lies at the time – that is an entirely different matter.

My general view of Boris’ demise is that it is in many ways a true “Greek” tragedy. Funnily that is not to say it is necessarily “sad” – that depends on one’s viewpoint. The man did, in my opinion, get many of the big decisions right – he did get Brexit done ( well almost 😊), he did have the foresight to order massive doses of covid vaccine (notwithstanding other mistakes in this area) and he was/still is a strong rallying point for the West’s opposition to Putin’s special military operation.

He was ultimately undone by a fatal personal flaw which could be described as a lack of attention to detail in an area which although was undoubtedly hypocritical ( and worse) directly endangered only a small number of his inner circle – pretty much all of whom were complicit. Perhaps the greater crime was indeed lying about it in the subsequent (unsuccessful) cover up attempt.

I will bow to my more classically trained friends & acquaintances on this; however, I believe that this is the true definition of tragedy. A point undoubtedly recognised by Boris himself.

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Sep 4, 2022·edited Sep 4, 2022Author


Many thanks for commenting. I agree with your initial comment that there would be real problems if an MP could be be censured merely for saying something to Parliament which later turns out to be incorrect. But that is demonstrably not the case. The Privileges Cttee has not suggested that it wants to take that line and I find it absurd that Johnson's lawyers interpret the Cttee's processes as if they had made such a suggestion. (But I do understand entirely why someone who has only read the press reports of Pannick's Opinion might think the Cttee was planning to do so.)

Jumping to near the end of your comment, you describe Johnson's "fatal personal flaw ... as a lack of attention to detail". But, in your next sentence you refer to his "greater crime .. [of] lying". I don't think there is any justification for saying that his inattention to detail was fatal to his career. I'm pretty sure it was the lying that finally led his ministers to walk out.

I don't think you and I disagree too much on what should or shouldn't happen. We simply have a different understanding of what the Privileges Cttee has proposed to do. One of us has read the actual statement and the other has read press reports of the statement.

All the best

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Reading the original documents is always a good thing - I just don’t have time. Perhaps that was Pannik’s original idea in making the submission so long 😊 . I suppose I have to bow to your greater knowledge of the facts on this one – a rare event in a society where those with the actual knowledge are so often side lined.

What did surprise me about your piece was all the other stuff of trying to load the dice so far as constraining the investigation was concerned. It did seem to miss the point that the committee is not a court of law. Having said that maybe some principles used by courts should be applied to keep the committee honest. I agree that Pannik and Co have gone beyond what is reasonable here.

If the committee is truly and principally interested in determining whether Boris knowingly lied to parliament then that seems a creditable objective. I do have a couple of reservations remaining in that it is possible that Boris did not knowingly lie – seemingly a small chance admittedly but a measurable probability all the same. However the chances of the committee even considering that eventuality seem vanishingly small. It is composed of politicians who will all have some sort of axe to grind – hint: very few of them will not have been damaged in some way by this saga. Moreover Boris has already admitted guilt – that’s why he resigned.

The other issue is that it would be unfortunate if the committee’s work were to take on the characteristics of a “witch hunt”.

Frankly, my memory does not serve me that well on the WMD issue, which is the last time a lie to parliament by a sitting PM assumed such importance. However, I believe that no particular action was taken against Blair in respect of his very big lie - or more precisely, lies about a very big issue (which led to 100ks of deaths in Iraq). In comparison the direct consequences of Boris’ actions re partygate seem relatively insignificant. Essentially if lying in parliament is a bad thing ( as it definitely is ) then sanctions should be applied to all offender – not just particular old Etonians.

The last issue is that Boris has been unseated as PM and that might possibly be just enough punishment. Should not parliamentarians be focusing more on how to remove the UKs “arse from the proverbial glue pot” rather than “wasting time” on a situation that has already been 99% resolved?

I admit that last comment may sound a bit partisan but it is motivated by a wish that the UK reverts to viable government as soon as possible. It may or may not have been that we were all in the same boat so far as Covid was concerned. It is certainly the case that most of the UK’s population is now in a sinking ship – I won’t say any more about the rats having left…

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Well, you have definitely proved me wrong on one thing. I said in my previous comment that I didn't think you and I disagreed on too much. I now see that we do!

1) I would suggest to you that, if Johnson intends his resignation to serve as an admission of guilt, he wouldn't need to defend himself in front of the Privileges Cttee; he could just submit a plea in mitigation. That he does not seem inclined to do so suggests to me that he clearly hasn't admitted his guilt. I offer you the thought that he resigned because, without doing so, it was clearly going to be impossible to appoint adequate replacements for all the ministers who had quit on him.

2) I don't seem to be able to persuade you to see any force in the point that, whatever he believed when he initially gave incorrect answers, there was ample opportunity for him to correct the record and he declined to take any of those opportunities. There has been a development on that in this morning's Times, which is reported here (no Times subscription necessary): https://rozenberg.substack.com/p/what-constitutes-contempt.

There is a part of me that wants to agree with you on the notion that losing No 10 is punishment enough, but the experience of Trump and Johnson has led me to the view that people who lie as a matter of routine should not be allowed near the seats of power. There is a real danger that the last few years has created the impression, on both sides of the Atlantic, that one can lie repeatedly and get away with it. I am of the view that a stand needs to be taken *pour encourager les autres*.

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Actually I think there is not such a very wide gulf in our fundamental ideas on this although (almost by definition) I do not agree with your first para.

Other points include..

Note (1) – you make a very good point here. For the record I believe that Boris is “guilty as charged” but stand by the maxim that you are innocent until proven otherwise. Possibly, a principle no longer recognised that widely. Moreover, notwithstanding my personal view, there is still a small chance that he is “innocent”. For the record, I believe that knowingly lying to parliament is a very bad thing – hence my previous resignation from the (New) Labour Party.

Note (2) : I Have a lot of sympathy with your view here.

Funnily enough I (almost) completely agree with your last para. I would however like to point out that although Boris was dragged kicking and screaming from office he did ultimately resign. Trump has never acknowledged defeat. There is a difference.

Again, for the record, I am a passionate believer in “liberal Democracy” (note the lower case “L” in liberal. As the greatest Englishman to have ever lived (or racist, genocidal maniac - depending on your viewpoint) once said “Democracy is the worst form of Government – until you consider the alternatives”.

Perhaps the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy got it right when they gave no power to the elected President of the Universe – as his ego was just too big. All the big decisions were taken by a man in a little house on the edge of the universe who thought that he might be “a figment of his cat’s imagination”! Now that takes me back to the late 70s…

…Don’t Panic/Pannik

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I should have read Pannik's original - it might have actually saved some time :)

I must say though - I have enjoyed this discussion

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Thanks for engaging in the debate, Matthew.

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