Former Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd admonishes Boris Johnson over 'collapse of the people’s trust' in the Government

Former Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd has said she had never witnessed “such a collapse of the people’s trust in a government” in the almost half a century since she was elected as an MP.

Dewsbury-born Baroness Boothroyd, who now sits as a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords but was Commons speaker from 1992 to 2000, was speaking in the Lords debate on the Government’s controversial UK Internal Market Bill on Monday.

Boris Johnson’s controversial Brexit legislation, enabling ministers to break international law, was branded “dangerous” and “baffling” in the Lords, and 91-year-old Baroness Boothroyd took a withering aim at Mr Johnson himself as she attacked the Government over the law.

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“I was elected to Parliament some 47 years ago and have witnessed nine Prime Ministers tread the steps of Number 10 Downing Street,” she said.

Former speaker of the House of Commons Baroness Betty Boothroyd, in her office at Westminster, London. Photo: JPI MediaFormer speaker of the House of Commons Baroness Betty Boothroyd, in her office at Westminster, London. Photo: JPI Media
Former speaker of the House of Commons Baroness Betty Boothroyd, in her office at Westminster, London. Photo: JPI Media

“But never in my parliamentary experience have I witnessed such a collapse of the people's trust in a government that promised so much and so quickly, and is now groping for desperate solutions to problems it said would not arise, or if they did, they could easily be resolved.”

And she added: “But let's not beat about the Euro Bush, the Prime Minister set the course we’re on and shows no remorse for steering off course.”

She said: “Future historians won't need a test and trace operation to find those responsible if we end up in a legal battle in the Supreme Court, and an economic crisis that rivals the 1930s depression.

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“I was a young girl in the 30s and saw the poverty and misery it caused at close quarters.”

She branded Mr Johnson’s reassurances the country would survive a no deal outcome due to “high hearts and complete confidence” as “a sham”.

And she added: “Trust, you know I think, in this government’s reputation, both nationally and internationally is in short supply.

“But our parliamentary democracy has deep roots, and I trust this house will defend our laws and traditions.

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“Who knows, there's still time for yet another U-turn, and [of] one thing I'm certain, we shall not deserve our reputation and regain our self respect until once again the world knows that our word is our deed and that we are committed to the rule of law.”

More than 100 peers were listed to speak on the Bill’s second reading with a likely vote on Tuesday on a motion of “regret” that the Bill contains provisions which would “undermine the rule of law” and damage the UK’s international reputation.

Business minister Lord Callanan defended the legislation, which will give the Government the power to override provisions in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland and has already been passed in the Commons.

Opening the debate, Lord Callanan said it would guarantee the continued functioning of the UK’s internal market to ensure trade remained unhindered and business could continue to operate with certainty.

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He said it introduced “limited and reasonable steps to provide a safety net” to preserve peace in Northern Ireland, if an agreement was not reached with the EU on how to implement the Northern Ireland protocol.

But Lord Judge, convener of the independent crossbenches, warned the Bill was “dangerous” and urged peers to defend the rule of law.

Lord Judge, a former lord chief justice, said the rule of law was a “bulwark against authoritarian incursion”.