Relentless pursuit of Boris and Brexiteers has turned UK into a banana republic

Sunak’s answer to Peston’s question on Boris Johnson

The hallmark of authoritarian regimes is that they cannot accept criticism, the exercise of free speech or any scrutiny of their actions.

In a 13-page report today the Privileges Committee under Labour veteran Harriet Harman’s chairmanship has opened up a new front against the very tenets of British democracy.

At the heart of this report is the question over whether any authority in this country is beyond criticism or reproach for its actions.

The conclusion of the Privileges Committee seems to be that it believes its members should bear no scrutiny at all.

In listing parliamentarians – including Jacob Rees-Mogg who has been a staunch defender of the House of Commons, rights of backbenchers and its traditions – who had the temerity to raise questions abut the trial of Boris Johnson, the committee has assumed almost absolute monarchical powers.

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Essentially, the committee members are more concerned about their own dignity and reputations than free speech or perhaps even justice.

The fact remains though that this has all the characteristics of a single minded pursuit of Boris Johnson in a bid to discredit him and, as he put it, in so doing discredit Brexit.

There has been an ongoing campaign to portray him as a serial liar since 2016 essentially because Remainers could not accept that they lost in an EU referendum which they tried to rig in their favour.

But to seal the deal on discrediting Boris Johnson the committee has had to find a way to issue a public punishment beating to anybody who dared speak up for him.

It is perhaps no surprise that most MPs who wanted to support Boris Johnson remained so quiet on the day of the debate in the report.

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The committee has excused this special report by claiming that the Parliamentarians and organisations named attempted to apply unfair pressure on Conservative members of the committee.

Tory peer Lord Cruddas was right to describe such a claim as “nonsense” because a grown up politician should be able to withstand some scrutiny and criticism.

It has though remained silent the fact one of its senior members Sir Bernard Jenkin is now under investigation for his own alleged Partygate style lockdown breaches which, of course, he did not declare when investigating Boris Johnson.

That in itself would be an act of contempt of Parliament but never mind that.

We also saw this week that not for the first time it turns out that Sir Keir Starmer was able to break the rules by taking on work less than two years after he left his job as Director of Public Prosecutions.

But whether it is that rule breach, having a beer and curry party during lockdown in Durham or not declaring financial interests in his register, Starmer somehow never has to face any consequences for his actions.

Never mind the lies which Tony Blair told Parliament to take Britain into the Iraq War with the lethal consequences that entailed.

It seems the only alleged lies Parliamentarians are concerned about are those of Mr Johnson.

There ar though a number of consequences to this report.

First, will be the long term impact on MPs’ freedom to speak and criticise or raise concerns.

From now on all MPs will have to be very careful about criticising any part of the actions of the House of Commons.

Second, is that a Pandora’s box has now been opened on how Parliament polices alleged lies or misleading the House.

If anybody thinks that the Privileges Committee hearing into Boris Johnson will be a one off they are naive.

Indeed, the US has provided us with an early case study of what happens. The Democrats tried to impeach Donald Trump, now the Republicans are trying to impeach Joe Biden.

There will be revenge Privileges Committee and counter referals going forward.

One of the terms that the committee members objected to was the use of “banana republic”, although it equally did not like “kangaroo court” either.

But a hallmark of a dictatorship in a bana republic is the 3am knock in the morning to arrest people for speaking out.

The committee had its own version here by flouting normal procedures and not giving the MPs and peers named in the report prior sight of it or a chance to respond.

Instead somebody leaked it to the Guardian.

The committee also apparently extended its own powers beyond the remit of the Commons to censuring members of the Lords (who it has no authority over) and even an outside organisation the Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO) which acted legally and is not part of Parliament at all.

It also attempted to censure the Conservative Post, a privately owned news website which ran an email campaign for Mr Johnson, in what can only be seen ultimately as an attack on the the press.

Assuming powers it has not been given is in itself a dangerous precedent.

Interestingly, the committee compared itself to a legal court which are covered by contempt of court rules even though it does not have the trappings, safeguards or status as a court.

For example, a judge who had spoken out about an accused could not preside over that trial, a jury member who had an opinion on the accused could not remain on the jury.

Yet Harman for one was able to put out Tweets about Boris Johnson and yet remain as chair of the committee inquiry.

Today’s report is not the end of the matter. The committee wants Parliament to allow it to pursue the MPs further and recommend punishments even though the committee members can in no way be seen as neutral in the matter.

What is taking place is an assault on parliamentary democracy itself and the free speech that underpins it.

As was said about Boris Johnson but equally applies to the committee members, nobody sohuld be above scrutiny or criticism.

There is a real danger now that this kangaroo court is pushing Britain down the path of becoming a banana republic.

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