When it comes to Boris Johnson and his X-Men of liars, the truth is the last thing that will set us free

The duplicitous prime minister hasn’t just changed the rules, he’s playing a different game. It’s time for us to learn it and beat him at it

Mark Steel
Friday 26 July 2019 15:13
Boris Johnson holds his first cabinet meeting

This cabinet Boris Johnson has put together is only the start. When he’s settled he’ll have Bernie Ecclestone at transport; General Franco at defence; a bloke who was in the Question Time audience in Sunderland who got so angry shouting “just get on with it” his hair caught fire as minister for communities; the Society of Deposed Central American Generals will share culture and sport and a chap from the year above at Eton will get agriculture as a little thank you for spanking him every Wednesday.

But he’s not done badly so far. Because most of the prominent posts have not just gone to normal lying politicians, but to people who have been sacked for lying or found guilty of lying in court.

Patel, Williamson, Cummings, Johnson himself, these are the X-Men of liars, boasting the world’s most amazing lying superpowers and brought together in one terrifying team.

Johnson will call them to a meeting in a gloomy warehouse, and inform them of a vital mission to blame shortages of medicine on immigrants rather than Brexit, and Dominic “The Fabricator” Cummings will slap “Somalis steal 8 billion Ventolin inhalers a day” on the side of every bus in Britain.

Priti Patel’s greatest moment was holding secret meetings with Benjamin Netanyahu about arms deals, which she planned to fund from the overseas aid budget, then claiming she bumped into him on her holiday. Hopefully, she’ll use these talents as home secretary, meeting with the police chief of Herefordshire, and promising him a fleet of Lockheed bombers, paid for out of the parks and water features budget, to bomb an awkward councillor from Hay-on-Wye, then claim they’d met by accident on a paintballing weekend.

And Gavin Williamson has only just been sacked for leaking details of a meeting, but he’s back already, like Amber Rudd after she had to resign because of the Windrush horrors. Disgraced Conservatives now don’t resign, they sit in a naughty corner for 10 minutes, then come back as long as they promise they’ve not given any thought to what they’ve done.

Cummings, the new chief advisor, was recently found in contempt of parliament, which Johnson probably sees as an honour, saying to him afterwards, “I’m so proud, I’ve asked them to print your contempt judgment so we can get it framed and put it on the sideboard, next to my trophy for telling 45 lies in a sentence with only 38 words.”

Johnson himself is the master, so adept he tells lies even when he has no need to, such as announcing he’d just voted in an election in which he had no vote. Soon we’ll be used to his answers at Prime Minister’s Questions, when Jeremy Corbyn asks about NHS waiting lists and Johnson replies, “My father invented tomatoes, I taught Brian Cox how to look at stars, I discovered Kent, my penis is the shape of a canon used by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.”

So, behaviour that ordinarily would have finished a career is now barely worth a comment. When he was meeting potential candidates for posts in the cabinet, he must have asked them, “Have you been caught lying in a way that could be embarrassing if it was used against us?” And if the answer was, “Well, yes, there were a couple of things a few years ago”, he’d say, “That’s not NEARLY enough, get out of my office.”

It no longer seems to matter even if everyone knows you’re lying, so every day Johnson will make statements such as, “The EU bans us from using the letter T. Well I say ‘tits’ to that”, and his supporters will roar and clap and say, “The marvellous thing about Boris is unlike other politicians who won’t tell the truth, he makes things up as they really are.”

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These last few weeks have seen Johnson at his best behaved, running a careful campaign in which he didn’t appear for three weeks, didn’t turn up to a debate and had the police called because the neighbours heard him screaming at his girlfriend. In other words, the most statesmanlike month of his life.

Now he’ll use the same methods on the EU: not turning up for the first two-thirds of a summit, not discussing a deal with them as debating isn’t his strong point, but still dominating the event when he sets off fireworks that blow up a Post Office in Brussels and Angela Merkel has to call the fire brigade.

One popular method of dealing with this is to expect Johnson’s government to collapse quickly because he’s not proceeding in the proper diplomatic way. But that may not work, as Johnson hasn’t just changed the rules, he’s playing a different game. You might as well scream “offside” at a game of snooker.

It seems Brexit is not just driven by a desire to leave the European Union, but by people who want to scrap all regulations, cut taxes for the wealthiest and blame everything that goes wrong on foreign lands and the funny people who come from there. And leaving the EU is just one part of that project.

At least half the country is opposed to those values, and most of those people see the EU not just as an economic block, but as a symbol of cooperation, especially compared with the ideals of Rees-Mogg and Johnson. It must be possible to bring those people at least partly together.

Or they could surprise Johnson by learning to out-do him. So instead of wasting resources on the truth, we could take his lead and put “Masturbation banned under no-deal Brexit” and “350 million kittens set alight every week under no-deal Brexit” on the side of a bus.

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