At the beginning of this supposedly big accusation against a former prime minister who ruined the election we had Boris Agonistes. Taking his place in the Covid investigation, Boris Johnson looked miserable, deflated, squeezed.
After taking the oath, he slumped at the witness table and distrusted the room around him.
Who could blame him when one unhappy, staring woman in the public gallery shouted “You’re a murderer!”, and when four others (soon expelled) held signs saying “The dead can’t hear your apologies”?
The pain of these protesters felt performative and political. Please, we are all victims of that miserable virus. Some of us lost siblings because the lockdown was too strict, not too lax.
Johnson arrived at the research building near London’s Paddington station about three hours early, under the cover of pre-dawn darkness, to avoid the baying crowd.
However, when the day’s hearing ended, shortly before five, he was a quite different Boris: he spoke more quickly; leaning back widely in the ergonomic graphite chair on the witness stand; He even rolled his eyes at some of the wilder proposals put to him by Hugo Keith KC, lead attorney for the investigation.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson testifies at December 6 COVID-19 inquiry
Johnson claimed his slowness to appreciate the Covid threat only reflected the indecision of the scientists advising him.
Johnson claimed his slowness to appreciate the Covid threat only reflected the indecision of the scientists advising him. He denied deleting information from his mobile phone. If the investigating detectives had known him as long as I have, they would have realized that he was never knowledgeable enough to have done anything remotely technological.
As for the alleged “toxic culture” in Downing Street (civil servants have repeatedly waved wet handkerchiefs at Dominic Cummings and other brutes calling them rude names), Johnson preferred a No. 10 where people felt able to challenge each other, even If that meant things. becoming a little irritable. If everyone had said “we’re doing great,” the investigation would have had a lot more to complain about, he said.
“The Thatcher and Blair governments had defiant and competitive characters whose mutual views might not have been suitable for publication.”
The difference was that they hadn’t had WhatsApp to post their rants. In fact, imagine what Michael Heseltine could have sent on WhatsApp about Leon Brittan and Mrs T.
Mr Keith, who in another life might have been a Dormeuil menswear model, filled his chest and exhaled: ‘Mr Johnson!’ with as much theatrical disbelief as he could muster.
He said this every time he felt he had caught his witness counting pigs; However, his polished skepticism fell on hard ground. For once, Boris had done his homework and got to work on various minutes and committee structures.
There was a flash of anger from the star witness (I almost wrote ‘the accused’) when Keith complained about hearing Rishi Sunak’s concerns about bond markets. The economy ‘matters enormously to the people of this country!’ Mr. Johnson spat. “I had to go over the arguments.”
Mr Keith complained that no one had preserved a single minute of the talks between ministers. He is great for minutes, he is Hugo. I bet he’s a stickler for fish knives too.
With increasing urgency, the KC reiterated the alleged failures of the Johnson government and its prime minister during the early stages of the pandemic. It turned out that some of the received wisdom was clearly false. Remember how Boris was said to have taken a holiday during the February 2020 half term? Fake news.
Hugo Keith KC questions former Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he gives evidence at Dorland House in London for the Covid inquiry
Furthermore, in one of the allegedly damning WhatsApp exchanges, the investigation confused who was saying what. So Keith, so particular about other people being aware of the facts, so precise about day-to-day events, didn’t know that 2020 was a leap year. Oops. “I really don’t know,” he murmured, and the young lawyers sitting at his feet looked a little embarrassed.
One of the horrible things about this investigation is that it has brought back that terrible moment when the virus arrived and began to spread, followed by the miserable sequence of stolen freedoms and thousands upon thousands of lives lost.
Despite all the accusations from the members of the Greek chorus sitting in the public gallery, who gleefully described the ministers as indifferent and cruel, there was a moment when Johnson had to pull himself together. He mentioned “that whole tragic, tragic year” of 2020 and almost burst into tears.
Handsome Hugo’s immaculate hairstyle was a huge reproach to Boris’s scruffy mop. The KC was wearing a crisp new white shirt and a handsome suit. From time to time he ran his strong fingers over his slender, freshly shaved jaw, like one of those guys from the Old Spice ads.
In front of him, the witness had not tucked his shirttails into his pants. Boris’s pale leg was visible between his socks and pants.
Keith reheated some of those profanity messages sent by Cummings, the coprolalico’s former No. 10 advisor. We were told that it is embarrassing that serious figures are so gossipy and rude to their colleagues.
One hesitates to say this, but it is not impossible that senior members of the judiciary have said, at the long table of the Garrick Club, some pretty bloody things about their brothers and sisters at the bar.
It’s not the first time that research into how politics works has seemed unworldly. Johnson had to explain that political figures are always plotting against each other and trying to get each other fired. This is how Westminster and Whitehall have always been.
Then some inconsistency. Keith was horrified that Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill could have been sacked. Moments later, however, he was equally horrified that Boris had not sacked Matt Hancock. It was as if, in the world of investigative lawyers, the mandarins were beyond reproach and, at the same time, the elected politicians were cannon fodder.
Over and over again Mr. Keith “told you so, Mr. Johnson.” When lawyers say, “I’m putting it to you,” they mean, “You were up to your neck in this from the beginning, weren’t you, Dr. Crippen?” Time and time again the exits failed. It just didn’t work out for Hugo yesterday.
Every county cricket professional has days like that, when the timing is not right and the ball doesn’t fly away from the driving point of the bat. The judge reprimanded KC of him a couple of times. Maybe he’s been getting too much publicity.
If the intention here was to discredit Boris – and that has been the direction of traffic for much of the first few months of this investigation – then it backfired. As can happen with incoming swells, a potentially huge, body-flipping break proved noticeably less formidable when it finally reached shore.
‘Everyone get up!’ We had to stand up every time Judge Hallett, empress of all she observes, strutted over to her booster seat. Fun little pudding. She had ditched last month’s designer scarf and seemed to make more interventions. She opened the day with a stern critique, aimed either at witnesses or figures in Whitehall, for anyone considering leaking evidence to the media.
Commenting to the newspapers was prohibited, he stated. I found her tantrum useless, pompous, and politically naïve.
Most of the arguments heard here have already been aired publicly. Research evidence is hardly market sensitive. Again, an indication of democratic deficit on the part of the legal bodies. And it was the investigation’s ad hominem line of questioning that put witnesses on the defensive.
There wasn’t a free seat in the house. Lawyers abounded, row after row, all at the public parking meter, gawking at the burly, blonde former prime minister who has been so demonized by the establishment in recent years.
Heartbroken: Kirsten Hackman, Michelle Rumball, Fran Hall and Kathryn Butcher were kicked out after they held signs reading ‘The dead can’t hear your apologies’.
The legal overediting was worthy of Cecil B. DeMille. From my position on the small press bench I could see 50 lawyers, and there were many more behind the pillars beyond that. A new paper sign had been hung on the wall instructing the public not to enter Zone E, where many of the lawyers sit.
There were long lines to enter the building. The police were in full force: uniformed officers on Eastbourne Terrace, plainclothes Special Branch boys in the hallway, and a couple of burly bodyguards in the courtroom itself.
For all the media hype, this promised to be a modern equivalent of the Warren Hastings impeachment, an 18th-century attempt to discredit a politician’s trial. That lasted seven years. Interestingly, this inflated investigation is expected to last almost as long.
Yesterday’s hearings lasted just six and three quarters hours, and more will continue today. Lady Hallett accepted that it had been a very long day for the witness, but one suspects that she felt happier in the late afternoon than in the early morning. And there is one thing that Boris Johnson had going for him, far above any eminence of judges, KCs or senior civil servants, and which remains valid even after his overthrow: he was our elected head of government.
For better or worse, for better or worse, confinement or freedom, it had the seal of democratic validity. This should never be subordinated to the pettiness of hindsight.