View on a Downing Street resignation: a smear too far

The departure of Munira Mirza, Downing Street’s head of policy, suggests that time is running out for Boris Johnson’s government. Sliding in opinion polls and under investigation by the police over illegal lockdown parties in No 10, the administration has a fin de régime aura. Ms Mirza, reputed to be the prime minister’s most trusted and influential aide, said that she was quitting over a matter of principle – a rare thing in Mr Johnson’s shrinking circle. She was unwilling to stay silent over his scurrilous slur against Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer.

After working with Mr Johnson for 14 years, Ms Mirza must have been acquainted with his modus operandi. But his claim that Sir Keir spent “more time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile” from the dispatch box was a smear too far. Sir Keir had been director of public prosecutions when Savile was questioned under caution by police in 2009. But he was not involved in the decision not to pursue the case and there is nothing to suggest he knew that Savile was a serial sexual abuser and failed to prosecute him. A day after Mr Johnson’s deplorable attack, he was rebuked by the Commons Speaker, but refused to backtrack.

This appears to have been the final straw for Ms Mirza. Her resignation letter reveals that she understood the damage that peddling such conspiracy theories could do, even when her boss did not. Ms Mirza wrote that “this was not the usual cut and thrust of politics; it was an inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse”. She called on Mr Johnson to apologise: “I appreciate that our political culture is not forgiving when people say sorry, but regardless, it is the right thing to do.”

The departure of the prime minister’s most trusted aide does nothing to dispel the fin de régime aura of this Conservative government

This plea went unanswered. During a visit to Blackpool, Mr Johnson claimed that his comments were about Sir Keir’s “responsibility for the [CPS] as a whole”. This is a justification, not an apology. The prime minister is constitutionally incapable of expressing remorse for what he has done wrong.

The deliberate and intentional misleading of fellow lawmakers and the public is a serious matter. Parliamentary privilege confers immunity in respect of what MPs say. It can be a valuable tool. It is not an excuse for lying in parliament. Mr Johnson rose to the top by flouting such conventions, but his way of shaping taunts has come back to haunt him. While others were unable to see dying parents, he attended parties, then claimed shock that they were social events. The pain-free Brexit he promised cannot be delivered. Britain won’t be levelled up anytime soon.

Tellingly, Downing Street’s press chief also left on Thursday. As Tory MPs continue to pen letters demanding that the prime minister goes, these departures are evidence that he is running out of people to betray.

World Opinions By The Guardian View

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