Uncovering the truth: did Johnson mislead parliament?

Uncovering the truth: did Johnson mislead parliament?

Privileges committee inquiry aims to uncover the truth of whether Johnson misled parliament – and is being met with considerable pushback

Sue Wilson MBEby Sue Wilson MBE

Ever since the partygate scandal first reared its ugly head, Boris Johnson has been dismissing any suggestions that he broke his own Covid laws. Whether giving evidence to the Met Police, Sue Gray or parliament, the prime minister has been keen to deny or deflect, and has attempted to avoid any, if not all, scrutiny. He may have hoped that, with his impending exit from Number 10, his misdeeds would be forgiven, if not forgotten. The forthcoming House of Commons privileges committee inquiry intends to ensure that is not the case and that the truth will out.

The inquiry, which is likely to take several months, will investigate whether or not Johnson lied to parliament. That’s assuming, of course, that the incoming PM doesn’t dismiss the inquiry altogether.

The investigation into whether Johnson misled parliament

The privileges committee – who play a key role in maintaining parliamentary standards and accountability – have been mandated by parliament to investigate the situation. Back in July, the committee published a 39-page report following an earlier call for evidence. The report detailed the “proposed conduct of inquiry” and outlined the committee’s intentions.  They will hear oral evidence – including from Johnson – in the autumn, and have pledged to protect the identities of “anonymous whistle-blowers” who might be unwilling to give evidence if their identities were made public.

It will be for the committee and the House to “determine whether a contempt (of parliament) has occurred”. The committee will also determine whether or not any penalties, or “the severity of those penalties” are imposed. Those penalties could include Johnson’s suspension from the Commons and a recall petition, which would trigger a by-election in his Uxbridge seat.

A “witch hunt”

Johnson loyalists in both houses of parliament have been questioning the motives of committee members and the legitimacy of the inquiry itself. Unsurprisingly, one of Johnson’s most loyal cabinet supporters – the culture secretary Nadine Dorries – did not hold back. She described the inquiry as a “witch hunt” and the “most egregious abuse of power witnessed in Westminster”. Dorries asserted that the inquiry would cast “serious doubt” on the reputation of the committee members, as well as on the “processes of Parliament and democracy itself”.

Zac Goldsmith – who was elevated to the House of Lords by Johnson in 2019, following the loss of his seat in Richmond – has also been keen to defend his political ally. Goldsmith described the inquiry as “an obscene abuse of power” and accused the committee members of being “highly partisan, vengeful and vindictive”. He added that the inquiry was “clearly rigged”.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – currently favourite to replace Johnson as PM – drew condemnation when she suggested she would vote to shut down the inquiry, given the opportunity. However, Truss was keen to downplay her comments, saying the inquiry would go ahead.

Not only is Truss proving her willingness to turn a blind eye to government deception but she’s demonstrating her own lack of principles. Lying to parliament while running the country is apparently not a problem, especially perhaps, if your intention is to carry on in the same vein.

A “terrorist campaign”

Committee member and staunch Brexiter, Sir Bernard Jenkin, was quick to respond to criticism of the committee and the inquiry. Jenkin, one of four Conservative members on the committee of seven, pledged that the inquiry would continue as long as it had the support of parliament. He described the plot to discredit the committee as a “terrorist campaign”. He said that the committee would discharge their duty, and any criticism should be made in writing directly to the committee.

In response to the comments made by Truss, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said Truss was “aiding and abetting” Johnson’s attempts to “dodge scrutiny”. The PM had “created a rotten culture” at the heart of Downing Street, Rayner said, and had “toxified the Tory party from top to bottom”. Not only had Truss enabled Johnson but she would “continue to follow his lead” if she became PM.

Rayner insisted Truss must confirm “in no uncertain terms” that she would not undermine the committee and that she would appoint an ethics chief on day one of her leadership.

We may never fully understand the justification behind the Tory attack on the committee and their inquiry. However, a recent article in the Telegraph may hold a clue. The article confirms that three former Downing Street staffers are set to give evidence to the committee. It is claimed they intend to affirm that Johnson misled parliament and failed to deliver a full account.

Whether their evidence will confirm the wrongdoing of Johnson alone, or of the PM and others, remains to be seen. But perhaps it explains why Johnson’s supporters are so keen to shut the inquiry down.

Thanks to Johnson, the country and the Tory party are now unrecognisable. When in doubt, they use misdirection, lie, blame others, deny. It’s the Johnson way, and his most loyal followers don’t have the capacity or inclination to do any different. If they believe Johnson can be saved then they are as deluded as the PM himself. Some rats, it seems, are too foolish even to leave the ship when it’s sinking.

Working from home under attack by out-of-touch and out-of-date government

Working from home under attack by out-of-touch and out-of-date government

With their attack on WFH, Johnson and Rees-Mogg have proved just how far the Conservatives have strayed from being the ‘party of business’.

Sue Wilson MBE

by Sue Wilson MBE

When the pandemic forced employees all over the world to work from home (WFH) – many for the first time ever – remote working was regarded as an efficient and useful tool. Companies were quick to embrace the philosophy, provide the necessary tools and benefit from the cost-effectiveness working from home can bring.

Fast forward to post-lockdown Britain and WFH is no longer regarded by the government as a suitable method of working. In response, companies and individuals benefitting from remote working practices are less WFH and more, WTF?

Efficiency minister living in the past

Having encouraged the British public to ‘stay home, save lives’, it seems the government has made another about-turn. The first obvious criticism of WFH came from the Brexit opportunities and government efficiency minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg, back in April. He insisted civil servants should immediately return to their offices, claiming it was important for the public to see that the government was working properly. I can’t argue with the reasoning – we’d all like to see evidence of the government ‘working properly’ – but I suspect we’re all far more concerned with the efficiency and decision-making abilities of our politicians than our civil servants.

An ‘insulting’ note left by Rees-Mogg for civil servants not at the desks drew widespread condemnation, not least from Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA trade union, responsible for civil servants and public service professionals. Penman said, “With every pronouncement and display like this, he demonstrates that he has no clue how the modern workplace operates and cares little about the effective delivery of vital public services”.

When a photograph of Rees-Mogg recently appeared in The Telegraph, sat behind a neat desk, free of modern technology, his lack of understanding of the modern workplace was again brought into question. Who, in this modern age, doesn’t have a computer on their desk? Personally, I found the lack of a quill more of a surprise.

WFH doesn’t work, says workshy PM

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a rather different take on why we should all be back in the office. WFH simply doesn’t work, apparently. Speaking as one whose job it is literally to work from home, his entire justification is based on personal experience – that of being a lazy, easily distracted, workshy laggard. Rather than demonstrate how inefficient home-workers are, Johnson has reaffirmed his own inadequacies to the nation.

Once again, a fridge was to feature largely in this PM story. Apparently, cheese is a terrible distraction from the business of running the country (into the ground). Coffee too. Then there’s the slow walk to and from the fridge, wasting more valuable work time. This surprised me frankly, as I rather assumed the PM would have a fridge under his desk. But perhaps that one is just for wine.

Whether the PM spoke with cabinet members before making his anti WFH pronouncement is unclear. It’s hard to imagine that those ministers rarely seen in Westminster – Gove springs to mind – would be comfortable having to be in the office on a regular basis. Nor will the likes of former attorney general Geoffrey Cox be too delighted, I imagine, preferring to conduct his business from the Caribbean.

WFH: the pros

Regardless of the ramblings of a behind-the-times minister supposedly responsible for ‘government efficiency’, or a lazy workshy PM, there are considerable benefits for employers and employees alike.

For the individual, perhaps the most obvious benefit is the ruling out of expensive, time-consuming and stressful commuting. While saving countless hours, and in many cases thousands of pounds, a year, the removal of unnecessary travel also benefits the environment. Something that, supposedly, is high on our government’s agenda (not so’s you would notice).

Another considerable benefit is the impact on work-life balance. Working from home provides more independence and flexibility. This can be demonstrated by the freedom to work in your pyjamas or to time-shift your day to start/end when it suits. That flexibility also means the avoidance of being tied to a particular location, suitable for travel to and from the office. To not exploit the opportunity, should you so choose, to work from a remote location, or even another country, would seem a terrible waste of modern technological advantages.

You could also develop new skills while working at home, such as self-discipline and communication. Thanks to the pandemic, many home-workers have become experts in virtual meetings by necessity. The avoidance of more formal in person meetings is also widely regarded as a benefit, alongside the freedom from interruption by work colleagues.

Employers benefit from having staff work remotely too, with considerable cost-savings and efficiencies. Those efficiencies help keep profits up and prices down, which also benefits their customers.

WFH: the cons

Of course, the freedom from working with others can also be seen as a negative – not everyone works best, or efficiently, in isolation. The lack of opportunity to collaborate with or to learn from others may make some employees feel as though they are missing out.

A common complaint from remote workers is the risk of forgetting to ‘clock off’, resulting in working longer hours. Work life can blur into home life, especially if you don’t have the luxury of physically separating your work area from your living area. That may also cause the appearance of being unprofessional, when the delivery driver rings the doorbell or the dog barks in the middle of an important Zoom meeting.

The recent announcement that 90,000 civil service jobs are to be axed may be a significant factor in the return to the office for public service professionals. For private businesses, and their employees, decisions on future WFH arrangements will be made based on common sense, business needs and cost-benefit analyses. The pronouncements of the PM and the efficiency minister will be largely disregarded as out-of-date, out-of-touch postering.

All that Johnson and Rees-Mogg have achieved with their comments on WFH is to prove just how far the Conservatives have strayed from being the ‘party of business’. They have failed business over Brexit, they have failed business over covid, they have failed business over the economy. WFH is just more proof that they don’t listen, they don’t learn and they don’t act. This government does not represent the needs of business. In fact, it’s difficult to see whose needs they do represent. Apart from their own.

EU-UK Relations Deteriorating Rapidly

EU-UK Relations Deteriorating Rapidly

In the run up to the Stormont elections in Northern Ireland, UK/EU negotiations were put on hold, so as not to interfere with the democratic election process. Now those elections are behind us the UK government have wasted no time in ramping up the rhetoric and further damaging relations with the European Union.

Minister for Brexit Opportunities, Jacob Rees-Mogg, recently let the cat out of the bag about government plans to bring forward a bill to override the Brexit deal. Despite the government signing a legally-binding international treaty, supposedly in good faith, it seems they never meant to abide by it. Although the new legislation did not appear in the Queens Speech on 10 May, it appears to still be in the legislation pipeline.

Northern Ireland Protocol – signed in bad faith

The deal that the UK signed, the same deal that was presented to parliament and the public as the best thing since sliced bread, is now widely despised by the Brexiters. Steve Baker MP, claimed the Protocol was signed “under duress”, while Rees-Mogg insisted the deal was only signed “on the basis that it would be reformed”. Strange that nobody told MPs that at the time of rushing the deal through parliament with little scrutiny.

Threats of unilateral action by the UK government over the Protocol are not new. We have heard it all before from various Brexit negotiators and from the Prime Minister himself. The supposed justifications for overriding the deal are similarly old excuses. However, this time around does feel less of a bluff. Judging by the response from Brussels, it would seem the EU think so too.

The response from Brussels

On 12 May, European Commission Vice President, Maroš Šefčovič, issued a statement following “tetchy” talks with Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss.  In his statement he said,

“… it continues to be of serious concern that the UK government intends to embark on the path of unilateral action … effectively dis-applying an international agreement is simply not acceptable”.

Šefčovič, who is also the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, drew attention to the fact that the EU have already proposed “wide-ranging and impactful solutions” following intensive discussions with the people of Northern Ireland. The UK government, on the other hand, seems only to be talking to the DUP, who are refusing to join the new N.I. executive unless the Protocol is scrapped.

Any unilateral action, Šefčovič said, “would undermine trust between the EU and UK as well as compromise our ultimate objective – to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement”. The UK government continue to insist that their planned actions would protect peace and the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). They seem to be the only ones who believe that. As the EU have pointed out on numerous occasions, the Protocol is the solution – to Brexit, especially the hard Brexit the UK government chose – not the problem.

Condemnation of UK’s unilateral destructions plans has come from further afield too, not least from Biden’s America. A delegation of influential US Congress representatives is set to arrive in Europe within days, amid growing concerns about rising tensions. They are expected to visit, London, Brussels, Dublin and Belfast, and will be underlining the US commitment to the GFA of which they are guarantors.

The new ‘no-deal’ Brexit?

It is no longer a secret – except to the deluded Brexiters – that Brexit is going badly. Nor is it a secret that the Prime Minister’s popularity has hit rock bottom. What better time to ramp up the rhetoric, make false accusations or cause further division, in an attempt to appeal to their right-wing voter base?

Threatening to scrap the Protocol is the new ‘no-deal’ Brexit. For many of the more extreme Brexiters, no deal was always the aim. Having failed to attain their goal the first time around, perhaps they see another opportunity to grasp that nettle. After all, the Brexiters do seem to see Brexit opportunities everywhere, despite their invisibility to the rest of us.

Meanwhile, as Brexit continues to damage the country, the government seems determined to damage relations with our neighbours. It could hardly have happened at a worse time, when Europe should be working together to defeat out common enemy.

Not only will pursuit of this policy cause untold damage to European relationships, it will make other countries think twice before trusting the word, or the signature, of our PM. Having just signed security pacts with the UK, Finland and Sweden must already be wondering if they are worth the paper they are printed on.

Of course, there is always the possibility that the UK will back down. They have plenty of form of doing just that, which rather makes a nonsense of all the posturing and bad temper. But, if they proceed down this dangerous path, they need to do so with their eyes wide open to the possible consequences.

The EU have run out of patience. If the UK takes unilateral action, they will act, as they did with Trump’s America. A trade war threatens and there can only be one loser. And it won’t be the EU.

A government that’s out of touch and out of ideas

A government that’s out of touch and out of ideas

Unless the government recognises the suffering its causing, it will remain out of touch and out of ideas, and the public will be the losers

Sue Wilson MBE

by Sue Wilson MBE

When Prime Minister Boris Johnson was interviewed recently on Good Morning Britain, Susanna Reid did not pull her punches. Johnson may have wanted to focus on self-aggrandisement but Ukraine, Reid pointed out, was not at the top of the public’s list of concerns. What is really worrying the British public is the rising cost of living.

Fuel prices are out of control, food costs are rising, more families are falling into poverty and more are reliant on food banks. Johnson insists the government are “doing everything we can to help with the pressures on family budgets” whilst simultaneously stating “there’s more that we can do”. Both assertions cannot be true. His claim to “understand what people are going through” is not backed up by government rhetoric or actions.

The government may be short on ideas as to how to solve the crisis, but they are not short on self-help suggestions for the general public.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice suggested a way to ease the strain on family budgets was by switching from branded goods to supermarket own/value brands. He claimed this would enable those struggling to “contain and manage their household budget”, failing to recognise that families on low budgets are already making these ‘choices’ through necessity.

“Sometimes the poor are praised for being thrifty. But to recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is starving to eat less.”

Oscar Wilde

Johnson says that people “have to make choices about what they spend their money on”. Sadly, for many struggling families, that stark choice is between heating or eating. But never fear, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has the answer – buy a cheap rail ticket and head off to the big city for some retail therapy to cheer yourself up. Might I suggest that Shapps cheer us all up, and save public money, by dispensing with his interminable, self-promoting videos!

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi’s solution to the cost-of-living crisis was to “make sure there’s a job available” for everyone. Clearly he is oblivious to the fact that the number of working families reliant on food parcels is on the rise, even those with two working family members.

According to a recent report by the Trussell Trust, in the year ending 31 March 2022, there was an increase in total demand of 14 percent. Of the over 2.1 million emergency food parcels delivered by their UK-wide network, 832,000 of those parcels went to children. I doubt that the education secretary was proposing to make sure jobs were available for them. Though I wouldn’t put it past him. Sweeping chimneys perhaps?

Supply your own energy

For those ignoring government advice on how to save money, there are plenty of other sources offering equally offensive, patronising and unhelpful suggestions. Energy companies – whose prices have risen by 54 percent, with further increases expected in the autumn – have suggested wearing warmer clothes. This included energy supplier Utilita who also came up with the ‘helpful’ suggestion that those struggling to deal with cost-of-living increases should use less electricity!

The second-largest energy supplier, E.ON , was forced to apologise to 30,000 households earlier this year after sending them branded socks to help them keep warm. The socks came with the advice to turn down the heating to help reduce carbon emissions.

Ovo Energy (SSE) were also forced to apologise after the suggestion that customers eat porridge, cuddle their pets, or exercise to keep warm. It would seem that, instead of using energy they supply, the poor are expected to use their own.

Rising energy prices are not unique to the UK though. Recent events have made fuel supplies, and prices, a global issue. Few governments, however, have done as little to ameliorate the problems facing its citizens as our own. Where other countries have capped prices or reduced or removed VAT, our government has not.

Berryman Political Cartoon
Berryman Political Cartoon from The U.S. National Archives, no known copyright restrictions

Record profits

As oil and gas prices surge across the globe, energy companies are reporting record profits. On Thursday, Shell announced the highest quarterly profits ever recorded for the first three months of this year – a staggering £7.3bn. That equates to almost three times the profits made during the same period last year.

Meanwhile, Johnson is ignoring the immediate problems, focusing instead on future investment in energy supplies. The demand for cleaner, cheaper energy is being presented as justification for the government’s failure to act, despite increasing demands for a one-off windfall tax on energy company profits. Whilst investment in a more self-sufficient, eco-friendly energy supply is vital, looking to the future does not solve the problem facing those struggling to pay bills right now. Nor does it force energy companies to act more responsibly and share their profit windfall with their customers.

Grim times ahead

As the British public headed to the polls to vote in local elections, more worrying financial news was announced – the Bank of England raised interest rates by 0.25 percent to 1 percent, a 13-year high. As a result, millions of people with debts or mortgages will see their repayment costs go up.

The Bank said they “expect inflation to rise further to around 10% this year”, the highest level for 40 years. They added that “prices are likely to rise faster than income for many people”, negatively affecting their purchasing power. A recession now looks inevitable.

Public response

Though local election results were damaging to the government, no doubt they will attempt to play down the results. A more appropriate response would be to take stock and put the needs of the country first. Having lost flagship councils like Wandsworth and Westminster to Labour, plus many other seats to the Liberal Democrats and Greens, it is time for a reality check.

Many Conservative supporters demonstrated their dissatisfaction at the ballot box, but the cost-of-living crisis was not the only reason. Partygate and the general level of dishonesty and disinformation was also a significant factor. But the two issues have something in common – they both demonstrate the government’s failure to understand the mood of the country and an unwillingness to accept any responsibility for their actions.

Unless the government recognises the suffering its own policies are causing, it will remain out of touch and out of ideas, and the general public will be the losers.

‘Bittersweet’: Brits living abroad for over 15 years finally win right to vote in UK Elections

‘Bittersweet’: Brits living abroad for over 15 years finally win right to vote in UK Elections

By George Mathias – Originally posted in The Olive Press

CAMPAIGNERS were celebrating their victory after years of battling for the right of those who have lived abroad for more than 15years to maintain the right to vote in UK elections.

On Thursday, April 28, the House of Commons passed the bill that will give tens of thousands of Brits in Spain and across Europe, the right to vote, regardless of the length of time they have lived outside the UK.

It puts a stop to the rule that saw long term British expats denied the right to participate in the Brexit referendum in June 2016.

The Elections Bill passed by both committee stage in the House of Lords and the report stage, where it was scrutinised for legal loopholes, before returning to the House of Commons on Thursday for a final vote.

The move follows 15 years of campaigning by expats, including from the Conservatives Abroad group.

Christine Rowlands, chair of Conservatives Abroad, told the Olive Press: “This is 20 years of work in the making and we are overjoyed. It will make a huge difference to the people in the UK.” 

Among the most high-profile campaigners is 100-year-old Harry Shindler, a Brit living in Italy, who challenged the 15-year limit taking to the UK courts and the European Court of Justice.

Harryshindler.jpg

100-year-old Harry Shindler has tirelessly campaigned for British expats be able to vote in UK elections.
Photo: British Embassy in Rome.

“This is a historic moment and Britons all over the world will be celebrating,” said the centenarian on Thursday.

Bremain in Spain’s Sue Wilson, who was awarded an MBE for her campaigning, admitted that the news stirred mixed feelings.

“While I’m delighted for Harry Shindler, after his tireless efforts, the news comes with very mixed feelings. The restoration of our democratic votings rights comes at very great cost,” she told the Olive Press.

“As we gain the right to vote others, thanks to new voter ID requirements, will lose theirs, and it is likely to affect many groups already disadvantaged, such as ethnic minorities, the poor and the young.

“The bill also takes away the independence of the Electoral Commission and gives the government more powers and removing further scrutiny. It’s a bitter pill to swallow in order to get back what we have lost. Most importantly, the votes are not yet in our hands, so our campaign will continue until the relevant processes are in place to make ‘votes for life’ work ahead of the next general election. It could come sooner than expected!”

The new law applies to all British citizens living overseas who have been previously registered to vote or have previously had a registered address in the UK. It is estimated that around 3.5 million Brits permanently reside abroad.

The law change also allows for postal and proxy voting for those who reside abroad.

Overturning the 15-year rule was a promise made by the Conservative party in three successive election manifestos.

Previously, the UK government said: “Decisions made by the UK Parliament impact British citizens who live overseas and so they should have a say in UK Parliamentary General Elections.”