In the lead-up to the investigation by Scotland Yard into Downing Street parties during lockdown, MP David Davis warned prime minister Boris Johnson to resign early rather than suffer “death by a thousand cuts” as revelation after revelation exposed him as a hypocrite and a liar.
With some help from Scotland Yard, which postponed publication of its report, Mr Johnson bought time, which was then extended by the crisis in Ukraine. But now his lies and hypocrisy have brought him back under the spotlight. Johnson, along with his wife, chancellor Rishi Sunak and 47 others in the government and civil service, have all received £50 fines for breaking the Covid laws they legislated and supported.
In addition, we are expecting the publication of the police investigator Sue Gray’s report and the possibility of further fines.
But despite this scandal, in reality, the worst thing that’s likely to happen to Johnson is that he might not receive the knighthood that is awarded as standard to retired PMs.
Johnson knows about impunity. Tony Blair was able to wage illegal wars, destroy states, inflame terrorism that spread across continents, and create humanitarian disasters on a global scale, yet he went on not to stand trial but to obtain immense wealth and a knighthood.
This is just one of the ways that the British ruling class maintains its impunity. It is no accident that the British parliamentary system which masquerades as a beacon of democracy contains no mechanism to punish the decadent and sociopathic behaviours of our heads of government. Johnson is in no danger of being held to account other than by the liberal press putting him on the naughty step and the Metropolitan police slapping a few more tokenistic fines on him – just enough of a public relations effort to invoke the notion it is a legitimate and ‘independent’ institution.
Britain’s two-tier Covid justice system
Although Johnson’s first instinct was to protect corporate interests through a ‘herd immunity’ policy at the outbreak of Covid-19, he was ultimately forced to engage some kind of (belated) public health strategy. The country went into lockdown in March 2020 and the government brought in laws that were modified throughout the pandemic.
As a result of rules and guidance, the police were given new powers, including the ability to issues fines of up to £10,000 for anyone organising the now outlawed social gatherings. And, indeed, thousands of people were fined for breaking these ruled during lockdown. A few people even went to prison for being “selfish”.
But it was no coincidence that those targeted with fines and jail were not wealthy owners of corporations and companies failing to adequately protect workers, but rather the lowest-paid, who were also the most vulnerable to infection and death from the virus. While workers died because of Johnson’s initial herd immunity policy, employers failed to protect their employees’ health, and the depleted state of the NHS meant it was unable to provide adequate Covid or non-Covid care, the police set about the one-sided enforcement of Johnson’s Covid laws.
This particular form of ‘accountability’, where the working population is held criminally responsible for endangerment of life while the government’s policies wreak havoc and misery upon the same population exposes the reality of the British justice system – who it targets and who it serves. Britain’s two-tiered bourgeois law punished the lower tier, the working class, in multiple ways during lockdown.
Thousands of people were issued fines that were illegal. A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) review showed that police forces had misused the 2020 Coronavirus Act and around one in three of the fines they issued were not lawful. And this shocking figure only applies to the cases seen by the CPS.
In the summer of 2020 Johnson’s attorney general brought in a closed court system, away from all scrutiny, for convicting lockdown law-breakers, called the single-justice procedure (SJP). Magistrates sat behind closed doors instead of in open court, holding mini trials where police officers rather than CPS lawyers brought the cases. It is thought that up to 25,000 people may have been illegally/wrongly prosecuted and fined via this process.
What’s more, Johnson’s government knew that under this system people would be unjustly prosecuted and fined – a further demonstration of their contempt towards workers, who are expected to tolerate a ‘justice system’ not fit for purpose.
One particular case that demonstrates the two-tiered nature of this system was that of Othniel Agyei, who was fined £12,000 by Westminster magistrate’s court for having an illegal gathering at his home in December 2020 – the same week in which Boris Johnson attended a party at Downing Street, and for which he has now received a £50 fine.
Despite the police telling him they had dropped the case, the secret court convicted Agyei without his knowledge. As of December 2021, he was still being forced to pay the fine or face prison time.
The darkest days of Boris’s tenure could still be to come
Boris Johnson’s behaviour has insulted those who stuck to the rules during lockdown, unable to see their relatives either in hospital or before they passed away, unable to celebrate their lives properly at their funeral, often unable even to bury them.
Johnson’s denials, twisting of the truth, revisionism of facts, delays and false contrition have become a significant problem for his supporters, allies and party, as he carelessly exposes the ugly nature of ruling-class entitlement, which requires facade management.
Is this what the bourgeoisie means with its public relations rhetoric about a “constitutional crisis”? It is not that Johnson lies which upsets them; it is that he keeps getting caught. If the government decides to remove him, they will need to replace him with someone who has not been caught lying; someone who is not fined for breaking lockdown laws; someone who has not been caught failing at facade management.
But the choices are shrinking. If they want to find a more discreet liar who will also stick to Boris’s Brexit promises, the choices shrink further still.
Whatever the outcome, these are dangerous times. If Johnson is able to exploit the Ukraine war in order to hang on, deludedly reinventing himself as a glorious wartime leader, he could lead us to a dark place where a sociopathic liar fronts a collapsing British empire aligned with nazis in a war that could become nuclear and worldwide.