Boris Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister has been marred by sleaze, scandal and a distinct inability to take accountability for his government. It’s no surprise then that his speech this morning — which was pre-empted by the resignation of 59 MPs — included nary an apology for his blunders, gaffes, and abject failures.
Noting that he is “sad to be giving up the best job in the world”, Johnson then went on to assert that “even if things can sometimes seem dark now, our future together is golden.” It’s a bold statement from a Prime Minister who has presided over a remarkably corrupt government, which has made the wrong decision at many turns.
Johnson is, indeed, the first British Prime Minister to have been sanctioned for breaking the law while in office after receiving a fine for breaching Covid-19 regulations that he helped put in place. Just think back to Sue Gray’s initial report into “partygate” that confirmed revelry in Downing Street while the rest of the country were unable to visit their loved ones in hospital.
His early Covid response, too, was blighted by errors. He U-turned on allowing families to mingle over Christmas in 2020, as well as on free school meals, exam results, and face masks. There was the failure of test and trace, and reports of more sleaze when it emerged that Owen Paterson was paid over £8000 a month for 16 hours’ consultancy work by Randox Laboratories; which the Tory government, surprise surprise, had awarded a lucrative Covid-19 testing contract to. The list goes on: there’s a £112,549 Downing Street flat refurbishment and all the many manifesto pledges he broke — including raising National Insurance contributions despite promising not to.
But still, not once did Johnson accept any accountability in his resignation speech. Instead, he put the onus on his colleagues, citing the “herd instinct” of the Conservative party in Westminster as the cause of his departure and his government’s failings writ large. “In the last few days, I tried to persuade my colleagues that it would be eccentric to change governments when we’re delivering so much and when we have such a vast mandate and when we’re actually only a handful of points behind in the polls,” he said. “But as we’ve seen, at Westminster the herd instinct is powerful, when the herd moves, it moves.”
Unsurprisingly, he chose to clutch onto what he perceived as his wins: “I’m immensely proud of the achievements of this government: from getting Brexit done to settling our relations with the continent for over half a century, reclaiming the power for this country to make its own laws in parliament, getting us all through the pandemic, delivering the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe, the fastest exit from lockdown, and in the last few months, leading the West in standing up to Putin’s aggression in Ukraine,” he listed.
It’s mind-boggling sure, but given Johnson’s track record, his woefully tone-deaf resignation speech comes as a surprise to no one.