I think we’re in the most severe constitutional crisis involving a Prime Minister that I can remember. It goes to the heart of the character of the Prime Minister. I don’t like ranting, I don’t like being ranted at, and I’m not too keen on doing it myself. But I’ve been keeping a diary since Covid began, and the diary entry I penned on Tuesday, it’s one of those days when it sort of poured out as if it was volcanic lava.
When you re-read a diary entry like that you wonder, after a few days when you’ve cooled off a bit, did you overdo it or not? But I don’t think I did. This is what I wrote on Tuesday in my diary.
‘Tuesday the 12th of April 2022 will be forever remembered as a dark bleak day for British public and political life. It is the day Boris Johnson became the great debaser in modern times of decency in public and political life and of our constitutional conventions - our very system of government.
The moment was captured on film for ever. Just after 6pm Johnson in a panelled room at Chequers, clutching a prepared statement which he reads to the cameras for Vicky Young of the BBC.
He apologises, says he’s paid the fine and refuses to resign. He was, he added, speaking in a spirit of openness and humility. If there were cocks on the Chequers estate, where all this was going on, they would have crowed at their very loudest at this point as the Prime Minister sealed his place in British history as the first law-breaker to have occupied the premiership - an office he has sullied like no other, turning it into an adventure playground for one man’s narcissistic vanity.
Boris Johnson has broken the law, misled Parliament and has in effect shredded the ministerial code, which is a crucial part of the spinal cord of the constitution. And the great weakness of the system is that the Prime Minister, the wrong-un in chief, is the guardian of the code and with it the supposed protector of accountability and decency.
The Queen’s First Minister is now beyond doubt a rogue Prime Minister, unworthy of her, her Parliament, her people and her Kingdom. I cannot remember a day when I’ve been more fearful for the wellbeing of the constitution.’
17 April 2022 – Peter Hennessy, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, Professor of contemporary British history, Crossbench member of the House of Lords since 2010