The only qualification required is unswerving loyalty to the PM. Competence and integrity count for nothing. We should not be surprised. What else could we expect from a Prime Minister who himself has an unparalleled record of incompetence and mendacity? He made his name as a journalist by filing reports about the EU that had little or no factual basis. And for two years he was the most incompetent Foreign Secretary in living memory, making our country an international laughing stock.
It came as no surprise when Brexit extremists Priti Patel, Dominic Raab and Jacob Rees-Mogg were given senior positions. What was more dispiriting was Johnson’s treatment of competent Ministers like David Mundell and Penny Mordaunt, sacked for no other reason than their failure to support Johnson in the Tory leadership election.
Liam Fox too, one of the authors of Brexit, was almost certainly culled not because of his unimpressive track record as a Minister, but because he supported Jeremy Hunt rather than Johnson. Beneath the façade of bumbling bonhomie lies a ruthless, vengeful autocrat. Comparisons with Donald Trump may not be as far-fetched as some people suppose.
It’s not long since Priti Patel had to resign as International Development Secretary after going behind Theresa May’s back in unauthorised meetings with the Israeli government, breaching the Ministerial Code. Gavin Williamson, then a gaffe-prone Defence Secretary, was sacked for allegedly leaking information from the National Security Council. Both of them are back in government, along with Esther McVey – she who misled parliament over universal credit.
However questionable these appointments may be, what I find more difficult to stomach is the capitulation of Ministers I had previously suspected of having some principles.
Last year Nicky Morgan said she would refuse to serve in a government led by Johnson after he had accused Theresa May of strapping the UK to a “suicide vest”, and that prorogation was “clearly a mad suggestion”.
Amber Rudd said that a no-deal Brexit would cause ‘generational damage to the economy’ and that prorogation would be “outrageous”. Jo Johnson, the PM’s brother, said that a no-deal Brexit would “inflict untold damage on our nation”. All three have torched their principles, joined Johnson’s bandwagon and accepted both prorogation and a likely no-deal Brexit. Their reputations are in shreds.
Sajid Javid, Michael Gove and Matt Hancock have also rolled over in front of the Johnson juggernaut, distancing themselves from previous statements. Javid said that prorogation would be “trashing democracy” and “the work of a dictator”.
Gove said: “I think it [prorogation] would be wrong for many reasons. I think it would not be true to the best traditions of British democracy.” Hancock said that a no-deal Brexit was not a credible policy option and that it would be outrageous to prorogue parliament.
Yet here they all are, in their shiny ministerial cars, going along with prorogation and with a no-deal Brexit if that is what their master demands. No wonder the public have such a low opinion of politicians.
Now, in the most grotesque twist yet, Ministers, who as backbenchers repeatedly rebelled against Mrs May, threaten MPs who rebel against Johnson’s no-deal madness with expulsion from the party. We have a government of hypocrites and lickspittles.
Earlier this year Dominic Cummings, best known as instigator of that infamous £350m slogan on the Leave campaign bus, was held to be in contempt of Parliament after he refused to appear before a select committee investigating the spread of fake news during the EU referendum. Now he is the unelected and unaccountable – but all-powerful – senior adviser of an unelected Prime Minister.
During the recent G7 meeting in Biarritz the No 10 press team issued a statement saying ‘the claim that the Government is considering proroguing parliament in September in order to stop MPs debating Brexit is entirely false’. Four days later, Johnson announced the prorogation – and now an election is imminent.
Given this, any further statements put out by No 10 while Johnson and Cummings are in charge will need to be taken with a very large pinch of salt.
Tony Rossiter, from North Yorkshire, is a former civil servant who worked at the Department of Trade and Industry.