Betty Boothroyd delivers scathing assessment of Boris Johnson's government

Betty Boothroyd in the House of Lords

Betty Boothroyd in the House of Lords - Credit: Parliament Live

Former House of Commons speaker Betty Boothroyd has delivered a devastating assessment of Boris Johnson's government in a speech in the House of Lords.

Baroness Boothroyd, who previously said she could not trust Johnson to even run a bath, said in 47 years in parliament she has "never seen trust in a government fall so far and so fast".

The 91-year-old crossbench politician said that "future historians won't need a test and trace operation to find out who was responsible" if there is an economic recession after Brexit, and said that the "blame game" had already begun, with the prime minister scrambling to point the finger elsewhere for the damage created by his Brexit project.

Boothroyd slammed ministers for the "low regard" shown towards industry, commerce and the Northern Ireland protocol, echoing former Labour chancellor Denis Healey by telling them: “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.” 

The former Labour MP was one of many peers to line up to criticise the government's Internal Market Bill.

Baroness Boothroyd's speech on the Internal Market Bill

My Lords, I was elected to Parliament some 47 years ago and have witnessed nine Prime Ministers tread the steps of No. 10 Downing Street. However, never in my parliamentary experience have I witnessed such a collapse of the people’s trust in a Government who promised so much and so quickly and who are now groping for desperate solutions to problems that they said would not arise or, if they did, could easily be resolved.

It has been a privilege to listen to such fine speeches this afternoon. Perhaps I thought they were fine because I agreed with most of them. However, let us not beat about the Euro-bush: the Prime Minister set the course that we are on and shows no remorse for steering us off it. The claim continues to be made that a no-deal end to our membership of the European Union is nothing to worry about and that we have every right to break a clause in an international agreement because we do not trust our European partners, but it was our European partners who joined us in signing that very agreement.

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Future historians will not 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. I was a young girl in the 1930s and I saw the poverty and misery it caused at close quarters, so of course I was alarmed when I read that the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, a Cabinet Office and Treasury Minister, was reported to have said that British businesses and commerce were not as ready as they should be for the start of our new terms of trade with Europe in January. What terms of trade is he talking about? Those whom I know who are working in business and commerce would certainly love to know.

I ask the Government: can we break future terms, as easily as we appear intent on breaking the Northern Ireland protocol, if we do not like the way they work after January? The low regard shown by the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, for British industry and commerce went even further. He was reported to have said that our traders have their heads in the sand as they approach January’s deadline. I am sorry that he did not heed Denis Healey’s advice:

“When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

The blame game has evidently begun, and the PM started it. He dictates a strategy and blames others if it does not work.

No sooner had the Prime Minister finished his sunshine forecast on Friday, of the prosperity he claims will surely follow there being no trade agreement with the EU, than a New York analyst made a withering comment that took my breath away. Our credit rating had just fallen dramatically but he did not write us off. He did not spare us either. He said: “the quality of the UK’s legislative and executive institutions has diminished in recent years.”

Who can deny it? The Prime Minister’s claim that we shall survive no deal because we have “high hearts and complete confidence" in the future will be exposed as what it is: a sham.

The latest line from Downing Street is that we shall insist on legal texts in future negotiations. If the Government had paid close attention to Article 10 of the Northern Ireland protocol before signing it, they would not need to override it in this Bill. Trust in this Government, both nationally and internationally, is in short supply but our parliamentary democracy has deep roots and I trust that this House will defend our laws and traditions. Who knows? There is still time for yet another U-turn. One thing I am certain of, 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.

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