A Brexit deal is done but we must keep on calling out the lies and probing the detail – this is not a triumph

The deal will make our country poorer and weaker, Boris Johnson will play the showman, while some sectors are at existential risk and the opportunities of our young people are greatly reduced

<p>Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a Brexit deal – but don’t believe the spin</p>

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a Brexit deal – but don’t believe the spin

The good news: there is a deal, and total chaos has been averted.  

The bad news: the deal will make our country poorer and weaker, strangle businesses with red tape, put some sectors at existential risk, reduce the opportunities of our young people, and leave us forever haggling over the huge areas of our economic arrangements that are not covered.

The li(n)e to take being pumped out by Downing Street and its many unpaid lackies across the media is that “Boris” held firm and pulled it off.

The Johnson Lie Machine was in full swing well before the final deal was done. “Hallelujah,” trilled the Daily Mail, “Merry Brexmas”. After four-and-a-half years, and mid-pandemic, they are playing on an easy wicket, because people are just worn out by Brovid or Coxit, take your pick. It means Johnson can do what he does best: say black is white, play the showman, and all while people are desperate to talk and think about something else.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may know that one of my tactics for coping with this wretched government is venting live into my phone as I stomp around Hampstead Heath.  

Amid my rants and rambles, I am pleased occasionally to be able to educate, as was clear in one of the first comments yesterday: “Oh, I didn’t realise that was why MPs call each other ‘honourable’ and 'right honourable!’” Indeed. As I explained, all MPs are “honourable”. Men and women of honour. When they are “elevated” to the Privy Council, not only do they get to “kiss hands” with the Queen (though you don’t actually kiss, you pucker the lips and get down low without actually touching the regal flesh) they also get to call themselves “Right Honourable”.  

You would be utterly amazed how much this means to a certain sort of person, who will give anything, up to and including bank accounts and self-respect, to be able to put Sir or Lady, Lord or Dame before their names. Thought the actual merit of the titles is being degraded by Boris Johnson, shovelling his cronies in there like lorries in a disused Kent airfield, there will always be people whose overriding ambition in life is to tell a restaurant receptionist that the booking is for Sir Bag-carrier or Lord Donor.

These little foibles and curiosities were able to command a modicum of tolerance in times when most people home and abroad thought that despite its eccentricities, the UK was always a serious country, to be reckoned with, strong on soft power, and broadly competent. But when we give the impression of being a never-ending catastrophe, then the foibles add to the sense of us being a first world nation bafflingly desperate to become a basket case.

Our entire system depends on that basic notion that all who serve in parliament are honourable, and the systems within the system are strong enough to weed out the dishonourable. That is why you have a code of conduct for ministers, and an arbiter of it. But when the arbiter decides that Home Secretary Priti Patel has not been honourable, but in breach of the code, the system only works if the prime minister is willing to accept that. That he is not underlines that he, too, is dishonourable.

As he then seeks to pack the Lords with his friends, donors and relatives, there exists a commission to consider the merits of his nominees. Johnson has become the first occupant of Downing Street to reject a Lords Appointments Commission’s recommendation, that a generous donor to him, his party and his Vote Leave campaign should not be given a peerage.

Johnson, as we know from his journalistic career, as well as his private life, does not do shame. This is a problem in a politics dependent on politicians being “good chaps”. If you are a very bad chap, then a system dependent on a universal acceptance that only good chaps (and chapesses) get the letters MP after their name, or Lord before it, then you really can get away with an awful lot.

Think of this, for example. When Boris Johnson said the other day that there were 170 lorries in Kent, affected by the French border closure created by him and his health secretary talking up the new Covid variant to justify his Christmas-cancelling volte face, this was a lie, provably so, and indeed immediately shown to be so.

But most of the media, which not long ago could not get though a story or a bulletin without fulminating about “spin”, now seem to accept that lying is just part of the current government shtick. Yet if an honourable member stood up in the Commons and said to Johnson that he had lied, the Speaker would ask that he or she withdraw the charge, and unless the MP did so, or went for the weaselly “may have inadvertently misled” us, the MP might well be expelled.

So the prime minister can lie, as he often does. But the person who calls him out for it gets punished. The home secretary can bully and break the code of conduct. But it is the investigator who goes, not her. Lords and Ladies will tut tut into their Gs and Ts, and teas and coffees, at some of the new peers. But Johnson has them by the tiaras. Because though they care about rules, standards and good chappery, he, being a thoroughly bad chap, does not. That gives him a huge advantage, and the country reason to be very alarmed about the strength of our democracy.

So Merry Christmas. And as Johnson “celebrates” what the Brextremist media will portray as a huge triumph, may I give you a Biblical passages. From Luke: “Nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”

So we have to keep on calling out the lies, and probing the detail of the deal. For the country, a triumph it is not.

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