Skip to main content

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

How Boris Johnson defends the indefensible

The latest gossip from Westminster and Fleet Street

A photo of the No 10 leaving party in November 2020, obtained by ITV news, shows Boris Johnson raising his glass for a toast by a table with wine and gin bottles (Photo: ITV News)

“No prime minister has abused his powers in the manner in which we allege in at least the last 50 years,” Lord Pannick famously lamented when he represented Gina Miller in her case against Boris Johnson and what turned out to be his unlawful prorogation of parliament in 2019.

The celebrated KC also spoke back then of how Johnson had not deigned as prime minister to say a word to the court in his own defence.

Johnson has been more than happy this week, however, to converse with Pannick as much as he wants since he engaged him – by way of a back-handed compliment for the way he conducted Miller’s case against his government – to represent him as the privileges committee examined the extent of his Covid lockdown rule-breaking.

I have no issue with Pannick representing Johnson – it’s his duty to represent all his clients – just as the would-be World King has the right to engage the greatest advocate of his generation. What irks me is Johnson’s hypocrisy. When he was prime minister, his spinmeisters put out the familiar line about Miller using her money to pay for an expensive lawyer to ensure her will prevailed. In fact, a source close to Miller told me that while no member of her legal team was fully pro bono, they acted with very reduced fees.
It’s different, of course, when Johnson uses Pannick, but then again, it’s not his money he’s using to pay for his services. It’s the taxpayer who is footing his bills.

Johnson is struggling to make ends meet, with the businessman Lord Bamford paying for his accommodation, the Harry Walker Agency in the US only able to pay him a £2.5m up-front advance to secure his services, and Rupert Murdoch chipping in £510,000 as an advance for his memoirs. Poor old Johnson has only managed to make £3.5m and counting – what he would no doubt call “chicken feed” – since December.

Rupert Murdoch was happy for his Scottish Sun to back the SNP in the 2015 general election, but, since then, support for Scottish independence from the nonagenarian non-dom has ebbed and flowed and finally come to an abrupt halt. Over the weekend, the Sunday Times spelled out his position clearly enough in an editorial that was headlined “Something is rotten in the state of Scotland – it’s the SNP”.

A turning point in the SNP’s relationship with Murdoch came when Sir Sean Connery died in 2020. The party had previously deployed cinema’s most famous double agent very shrewdly. Connery cheerfully admitted to me that he twisted Murdoch’s arm over the SNP while he was making The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for Murdoch’s 20th Century Fox. Later, when the News of the World was embroiled in the phone-hacking scandal, Connery let it be known he had no intention of seeking any kind of redress against the now-defunct tabloid.

“Rupert always told me he thinks of himself as Scottish, but you could have fooled me,” Connery told me at the time. “He is whatever it is expedient for him to be for tax purposes.”

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, may have got the Office for Budget Responsibility to approve last week’s budget – an unnecessary formality so far as his predecessor, Kwasi Kwarteng, was concerned – but the Treasury itself remains less than transparent about its own finances.

Mandrake hears rumours of the Treasury not exactly practising what it preaches in these straitened times, and it’s ominous that it has not complied with the transparency requirements to disclose its monthly spending on items and services costing more than £25,000 for over a year. The department has gone through four chancellors since its last spending disclosure in March 2022 – Rishi Sunak, Nadhim Zahawi, Kwasi Kwarteng and Hunt – and the chaos this has brought in may well have made it difficult to keep up with the paperwork.

Still, all four chancellors are multi-millionaires not known for stinting themselves when it comes to life’s little luxuries. In 2021, when Sunak was chancellor, I disclosed how he had authorised a £71,690 revamp of the changing rooms at the Horse Guards Road gym where he worked out. He also found £1m for 901 new mobile phones for his staff, 161 HP laptops, 38 hi-tech secure Rosa laptops, 70 height-adjustable desks, 150 work-from-home packages and 160 monitors. The 161 HP laptops cost £200,298 alone.

The previous October, Sunak had authorised a £750,000 spend on new computer hardware – which saw his staff handed laptops, phones and home-working kits.

It’s nothing short of extraordinary that with Amanda Platell as his press secretary, William Hague never managed to make the transition from leader of the opposition to prime minister.

Over the weekend, the Australian communications guru and journalist, now ensconced at the Daily Mail on a six-figure salary, chose a characteristically innovative line of attack against Gary Lineker, the BBC football presenter still not forgiven by the paper for his views on migrants.

Platell sarcastically noted in her column that Lineker had rescued his husky Filbert from the streets of California to prove “he really is kind at heart”. She then added the killer line: “The thousands of abandoned dogs in the UK that he overlooked may disagree.”

This of course makes a number of assumptions: 1. All her readers anthropomorphically go along with the idea that abandoned dogs in the UK take a collective view about this matter one way or the other; 2. If Lineker had been genuinely caring, he would by now have found space for all of the thousands of abandoned dogs in the UK in his London home; 3. British homes should only be found for British dogs.

Racism against animals is not actually an entirely new idea. During the first world war, dachshunds – though not, oddly, alsatians – were routinely attacked in the streets or put to sleep because of their German origins. It can only be a matter of time now before Platell is demanding that Persian cats go back to where they came from.

The Daily Mail editor Ted Verity may, as I disclosed, be happy to lunch with Boris Johnson, but I learn there has been little fraternisation between Mail top brass and the current incumbent of No 10.

Johnson’s dishonours list – with its proposed peerage for the Mail grandee Paul Dacre – remains the bone of contention. Rishi Sunak is in no hurry whatsoever to sign it off, feeling, understandably, he owes nothing to Dacre – the Mail thwarted his first attempt to be prime minister – and that he could do without yet another big Tory sleaze row on his watch.

There may be an acknowledgement at the Mail that Johnson is unlikely ever to come back as PM, but they still want to make life as difficult as possible for Sunak. Over the weekend, yet another of the paper’s anonymous sources was laying into Sunak’s Brexit deal.

Sunak knows that it’s impotent rage since, come the next election, the paper’s non-dom owner, Lord Rothermere, will not countenance anything but energetic support for him and his party. He knows only too well the alternative will be Sir Keir Starmer, with his unhelpful views about outlawing non-dom tax status.

Seems ironic to recall, too, that the reason given for Geordie Greig’s removal as the Mail’s editor a year ago was because Rothermere had felt him less than supportive of the government.

Hello. It looks like you’re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best experience possible, please make sure any ad blockers are switched off, or add to your trusted sites, and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help you can email us.

See inside the We can be better than this edition

Twenty nautical miles separate Livorno from the smallest island in the Tuscan archipelago – Gorgona, Italy’s last prison island. A small mountainous island, rich in chestnut trees, black alders, holm oaks and Aleppo pines typical of the Mediterranean maquis shrubland. Photo: Federico Tisa

Gorgona: Italy’s last Alcatraz

The prison island in Tuscany is a social experiment in which 80 prisoners look after animals, orchards and fields

KSI celebrates a win over fellow YouTuber FaZe Temperrr in an exhibition crossover boxing match at Wembley in January. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty

On the ropes: The demise of the noble art of boxing

The current sensation of bouts between reality TV stars, rappers and TikTok celebrities could kill off real boxing forever