Johnson must be held to account for lies

In politics, when the going gets tough at home, politicians tend to get going on state visits to other countries. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is an excellent case in point.

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Opinion

In politics, when the going gets tough at home, politicians tend to get going on state visits to other countries. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is an excellent case in point.

Faced with the fallout from the ever-expanding “Partygate” scandal, Mr. Johnson jetted to India this week on a frantic trade and diplomatic mission. Earlier this month, he visited Kyiv to talk with besieged Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in what his aides said was “a show of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.”

Although it has made for some interesting photos, Mr. Johnson’s magical mystery tour of any place that is not the United Kingdom has done nothing to quiet the calls for his resignation.

In a nutshell, Mr. Johnson attended a number of social events with staff and supporters at various times in 2020 and 2021 while his country was in COVID-19 lockdown. Initially, when confronted about his participation in these illegal social gatherings, Mr. Johnson denied there were parties. Then after it was clear there were parties, he denied he had been present. When evidence was presented showing Mr. Johnson indeed was present for some of these gatherings, he claimed they were not actually illegal.

An independent investigation and the Metropolitan Police, which issued several dozen “fixed penalty notices” to Mr. Johnson and others at the parties, beg to differ.

This week, as Mr. Johnson toured India, members of his own government supported a motion in the House of Commons for a formal investigation to determine whether Mr. Johnson lied to Parliament, a finding that would require him to resign his post.

Political observers here in Canada may find all this to be somewhat of an overreaction, particularly if those Canadians do not believe the social and economic restrictions invoked during the pandemic were necessary or effective. But Britain’s political crisis is not really about restrictions; it’s about honesty.

Stefan Rousseau/Pool Photo via AP
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

More cynical observers might assume dishonesty is an inherent trait demonstrated by all politicians. Journalists who cover political beats will tell you, however, that the instances of out-and-out dishonesty on a Johnsonian level are quite rare. The British House of Commons is right to take offence at Mr. Johnson’s estrangement from the truth and seek the most serious punishment available: a forced resignation from his position as first minister.

This is not an instance of a politician making a mistake and showing an unwillingness to apologize or make amends. Manitobans may remember former premier Brian Pallister as being estranged from political accountability, prone to breaking all the dishes in the figurative china shop and then refusing to admit what he had done.

Mr. Johnson’s predicament is not that predicament.

Throughout Partygate, Mr. Johnson has demonstrated nothing but contempt for parliamentary privilege and procedure.

Throughout Partygate, Mr. Johnson has demonstrated nothing but contempt for parliamentary privilege and procedure. He has uttered shocking untruths in a desperate bid to defend his actions, and then refused to take responsibility for his actions when his lies were laid bare.

There is a price to be paid when a democracy does not demand accountability from its political leaders. One need only look to the United States, where a former president attempted to corrupt a general election and fomented a violent insurrection to stay in power after the result did not go his way. Americans and people around the world who have watched this toxic melodrama unfold have rightfully lost faith in the U.S. system of governance.

The British House of Commons must hold Mr. Johnson accountable for his crimes against honesty. Offering any lesser response would be to undermine the whole notion of democracy — a failure that would be felt both in Great Britain and around the world.

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