Posted By: February 03, 2022


Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Wednesday, February 2, 2022.

DISTRACTION and deceit have long been go-to tools for Boris Johnson in efforts to evade responsibility for his actions.

However, smearing a political opponent with a false allegation about a serial abuser represents a new low both for the prime minister and British politics.

Responding to criticism from Sir Keir Starmer about rule-breaking parties at Downing Street, Mr. Johnson used parliamentary privilege to claim that in his former legal role, the Labor leader “spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile”.

The crass attempt to deflect attention from Sue Gray’s report on lockdown breaches says much about the character of the Conservative leader.

It is true that Sir Keir was head of the Crown Prosecution Service in 2009 when it was decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Savile over allegations of sexual assault. However, he was not involved in the process and later commissioned an investigation that was critical of his organization.

In any case, suggestions that Sir Keir should take corporate responsibility for such failings would equally apply to Mr. Johnson over Covid breaches in his own backyard.

The claims have previously been peddled by right-wing conspiracy theorists but are widely discredited. It has been reported the prime minister was strongly advised not to repeat them.

His decision to proceed has disgusted some colleagues, with former secretary of state Julian Smith saying: “False and baseless personal slurs are dangerous, corrode trust and can’t just be accepted as part of the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate.”

The Commons speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, belatedly rebuked the prime minister yesterday. However, in contrast to valid claims by the SNP’s Ian Blackford that Mr. Johnson had misled parliament, he did not demand the comments be withdrawn.

Downing Street, meanwhile, was unapologetic yesterday.

The prime minister will no doubt have calculated that efforts to debunk the story will only serve to underline a connection between Savile and Sir Keir in the minds of some.

The shameful tactic is one more associated with Donald Trump and further evidence of descent to US standards of political discourse, where alarming levels of unethical behavior will be tolerated if key promises are met.

Mr. Johnson was never fit for political office yet the Conservative Party – and DUP – were prepared to hitch their wagon to his circus act in pursuit of short-term gain. With each scandal that emerges, the price to be paid becomes more clear.