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Boris Johnson lied so often, so effortlessly

Boris Johnson was a winner but he won on falsehoods, and the truth caught up with him at last. Nothing is left but cold, hard anger

The New European front cover image, June 15-21

Depending on which reference book you favour, the key traits of narcissism are these: an insatiable need to be the centre of attention, a grotesquely inflated ego, a refusal to recognise boundaries, greater concern for oneself than for others, envy of anyone who has things the narcissist wants or feels entitled to have, an exploitative personality skilled at manipulating others to admire you, and an obsession with power, beauty or success.

The front cover of the paper will have given you a clear steer as to who and what motivated me to dig out the medical definitions, Boris Johnson having announced, after reading the Privileges Committee report into his Partygate lies, crimes and misdemeanours, that he was standing down from parliament.

But by what wonderful coincidence did that moment echo something happening on the other side of the Atlantic, where Donald Trump was lashing out in all directions as he digested an indictment that brought ever closer the possibility that he might see out his days in an orange jumpsuit to match the orange skin? The two poster boys of post-truth populism simultaneously delivering shameless, self-serving, gaslighting, blame-shifting, responsibility-evading, rambling lash-out attacks, which indicated clearly that, for all the damage they have already done, they are far from finished with inflicting harm. Though Rishi Sunak may be relieved that Johnson’s presence will be gone from the backbenches, he knows that his predecessor-but-one cares little now about what further damage he does to him and the Conservative Party, which Sunak is trying to steer towards a looming (as things stand, losing) election.

Just as the Republican Party was a vehicle for Trump to become president, so for Johnson Brexit was a vehicle to becoming leader of the Tory Party, a necessary step on the route to becoming prime minister. While he needed the party to make him leader, and when he became leader he needed it to bathe in the adoration, feed the ego, fuel the sense of power, he loved it. Now that most of the party neither needs nor wants him, he sees it as fair game along the path of destruction that has defined his life.

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Boris Johnson has only ever been motivated by the interests of Boris Johnson. His teachers at Eton said so. His friends in the Bullingdon Club at Oxford said so. His bosses, staff and colleagues in journalism said so. His colleagues in parliament said so, yet so mesmerised were they by those manipulative skills that they allowed him to rise to the pinnacle of power despite many of them sensing he shouldn’t be allowed near the bottom of the political pile, let alone the top.

His whole life has been about getting into scrapes, having all and sundry say he “can’t get out of it this time” and then proving everyone wrong. Surrounded by the sycophantic echo chamber of media and political enablers that the narcissist requires in permanent proximity, that is the mindset that will be spurring him on now.

But he is done. Though he will always have supporters, the vast majority of British people did not need to see the committee’s report, or his petty, vindictive and delusional response to it, to make up their minds that at a time of national crisis, when almost all were abiding by the Covid rules, the man who made the rules was breaking them, and the building in which he worked and lived became the most fined establishment in the entire country. And that he was lying to them, taking them for fools, laughing at them.

Just hours before his resignation from parliament swept all but Trump from the news agenda on Friday evening, we had been provided with further evidence of Johnson’s unfitness for public office, and his contempt for the institutions on which our democracy depends, in the form of his honours list. Even with the likes of Nadine Dorries, Paul Dacre and Stanley Johnson getting the red pen treatment, the list Rishi Sunak asked the King “graciously to agree” was a total disgrace. The man who lied to the Queen on Johnson’s behalf about the prorogation of parliament – knighted. The education minister known for giving the finger at the gates of Downing Street, and not much else – allowed for the rest of her life to call herself a “dame”. Mr “Bring Your Own Booze” given the Order of the Bath. A once-great country reduced to a shameful exhibition of corrupt entitlement.

What does it say, both about our political system and the damage Johnson has done to it, that on the day he announced he would no longer be an MP, brought about by a report making clear he lied to parliament, breaking one of the cardinal sins of our democratic life, the King had to sign off “honours” for Johnson’s donors, bag-carriers and Covid party collaborators, up to and including life peerages? I am by no means a fan of the Lords, and more pleased than ever that both my partner Fiona and I have turned down peerages in the past, given the Johnson crony company we would have to keep. But there are good and clever people in there, who are committed to public service. They need to show this new lot the meaning of the cold shoulder. And if I were King Charles, Prince William, Princess Anne, or indeed anyone above deputy Lord Lieutenant level, I would be making sure I was having a day off when this rotten ragbag turn up at the palace to accept their honours from the most dishonourable prime minister it has ever been the UK’s misfortune to have.

On October 11 2017, almost six years ago, as Theresa May’s premiership stumbled on, trying to make the best of the dreadful hand she had inherited from David Cameron’s referendum-wrecked premiership, the New European front page was a picture of Boris Johnson with these words written in capital letters across his face: “LIAR, CHEAT, CHARLATAN, NATIONAL EMBARRASSMENT… UNFIT FOR PUBLIC OFFICE…” and beneath that, in brackets (… no wonder so many think Boris is the next PM).

It happened. And it has, as we have consistently warned, been a disaster. Yet just as I felt no joy when Boris Johnson was forced out of Downing Street by his ministerial colleagues, so I felt next to none when he announced that he was leaving parliament. I felt cold, hard anger that he had ever got there, become such a central and powerful figure in the body politic, and inflicted enormous and lasting damage upon it.

I felt, and still feel, cold, hard anger at the army of enablers in parliament, business, the press, TV and radio who did so much to cover up the truth about this man, and helped ventilate the lies that gave us Brexit and so made him, alas, one of the genuinely consequential figures of our time. History will remember him for it, and he has always longed for a place in history. But when even Nigel Farage is saying Brexit has failed, it will not be the place that this faux Churchill fantasist ever envisaged for himself. 

Johnson has never cared about the country, or his party, only himself and the narratives he creates for himself. His resignation statement was the beginning of the framing of the new narrative. “I am a victim. They hate me – because I am a winner. It’s not fair.”

He has never been a victim of anything other than his own failings. As for winning, he certainly was a winner. He won London for the Tories to become mayor, no mean feat. He won the referendum. He won the Tory leadership to become prime minister. He won a general election with, he falsely claimed in his statement, the biggest parliamentary majority in half a century. (Those three-figure landslides in 1997 and 2001 must have been a dream!)

But he won them all on falsehoods, and truth has caught up with him at last. Pretending to be a progressive in London. Pretending to think Brexit was a great idea for the country when it presented itself as an opportunity for advance in the Tory Party. Lying about what it would deliver. Lying about the “oven-ready deal” on which he won an election against Jeremy Corbyn. Then lying about Covid and, as Dominic Cummings put it, lying so often and so effortlessly that he no longer knew when he was lying and when he was telling the truth.

We have not heard the last of Boris Johnson. Sadly, we never will. But it is unlikely he will ever reach high, or even low, office again. Once the current blah about Johnson, which the media love so much, has died down, a new and more accurate narrative will form, and history will wonder, how on earth did that ever happen?

Meanwhile, Johnson will grow old disgracefully, make and waste millions, and to the end of his days tell anyone who cares to listen that if only his government colleagues hadn’t lost their bottle, if only Sunak hadn’t been such a treacherous rat, if only those Tory MPs on the Privileges Committee hadn’t been manipulated by that awful Harriet Harperson, the Tories would still be in power and I would still be lying on the sofa in No 10 staring at Carrie’s wallpaper and being the best ever world king.

He will, we can be confident, be shameless, self-serving, gaslighting, blame-shifting, responsibility-evading and rambling to the end. But at least the end of his political career is in sight.

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