Neil Mackay: Let’s talk about prosecuting Johnson

AS a man who poses as well educated, with passable knowledge of the ancient world, one assumes Boris Johnson is acquainted with the history of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled ancient Egypt in the mid-1300s BC.

Akhenaten brought his country into utter disrepute. He upturned tradition, order and decorum, principally by banning the worship of ancient Egypt’s many gods and inflicting monotheism on his people. His actions offended public morality, and shamed the office he held. After his death, Akhenaten was subjected to what the Romans would later call “damnatio memoriae” – condemnation of memory. Akhenaten’s image was hacked from temples, removed from public sight. Egyptians restored order by reversing and denouncing everything this objectionable despot ever stood for.

With the wisdom of the ancients behind us, it’s fair to consider how Britain moves on after Mr Johnson. While the Prime Minister may be gone by the time this column is published – for his sins accelerate political time at speeds which would make HG Wells’s head spin – it’s likely the nation must endure this loathsome character in office for some time longer. He’s a limpet – even dynamite wouldn’t dislodge him from Number 10. We’ll have to wait, most probably, for Tories and their 1922 Committee to find the guts to defenestrate the worst Prime Minister this country has ever endured. Meanwhile, Britain rots under his rule – a weak failure propped up solely by nonentities soulless enough to stomach serving him, gutless creatures who spend their time covering their master’s tracks rather than working for the British people.

Read more: Johnson’s Hungarian-style assault on democracy threatens devolution

So perhaps this country needs to have a discussion about prosecuting Johnson, once he’s forced from office. Clearly, the spineless majority which dominates the Commons will do nothing to impeach this man while he remains in power.

Maybe, though, there’s a way to bring him to book, thereby reestablishing this country’s norms. For if he isn’t punished in some way, then what’s to stop another Prime Minister simply using what’s happened these last few years as a template for their own leadership, thus taking Britain deeper into the gutter, to a place from which democracy cannot return?

Let’s look at the law of “misconduct in public office”. It’s a rather deliciously open-ended piece of legislation, which is perhaps a positive – in a country like Britain, more addicted to the status quo than fans of Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt, the chances of an act as radical as calling a rogue Prime Minister to account through the courts, are, even the most hopeful most admit, slim to vanishing. So open-ended is good; it gives huge latitude to interpretation.

“Misconduct in public office” is an English law dating back to the 13th century. Wouldn’t it be splendidly fitting to prosecute a rabid English nationalist, and a man whose flirted with medievalism and autocracy via the so-called Henry VIII powers, under such legislation?

The law states that an offence is committed when “a public officer … wilfully neglects to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself … to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder, without reasonable excuse or justification”. You can find the full details of the law on the Crown Prosecution Service’s website. Conviction can carry a life sentence, incidentally.

There’s case law on the offence from 1675 all the way up to 2010. The type of people prosecuted under the act have included coroners, police officers, mayors, magistrates, army officers, DVLA employees, immigration officials, government computer staff, councillors and nurses. So, if you take the public shilling, you’re exposed to prosecution.

It seems almost absurd to discuss whether Mr Partygate has “wilfully misconducted himself to such a degree that he’s abused public trust”. In the last week alone, facts have emerged, it could be argued, sufficient to trigger the law.

Johnson claimed he wasn’t aware of specific sexual allegations against his whip Chris Pincher. That was a lie. This we know; it’s indisputable. Alleged sexual details also appeared in Private Eye magazine deepening the scandal surrounding the claims that Johnson wanted to get his now-wife, Carrie, a £100,000-a-year job as his chief of staff in the Foreign Office, while they were having an affair.

The affair is utterly unimportant, as are the sexual details. It’s nobody’s business who anyone sleeps with as long as it’s consensual, adult and nobody is hurt or manipulated. What does matter, however, is one of the most powerful men in Britain seemingly wanting to enrich his lover while in office.

Read more: Owen Paterson scandal is part of Boris Johnson’s war against democracy

There’s not space, nor the patience, to recount Johnson’s myriad sins against public trust, but one would imagine that a comment like “let the bodies pile high” amid a global pandemic is itself enough to amount to misconduct in office. Do we need a quick kaleidoscope of past headlines, or names like Jennifer Arcuri, another woman he was sleeping with, for whom he opened another favour bank while in power as the mayor of London? Maybe we need to consider the billions in lucrative Covid contracts which went to Tory cronies? Or the free holidays, or the donors helping pay for luxury home refurbishments? Just engage your memory and the stink of corruption and lies steams the brain.

Britain needs to renew after Johnson. We require a clean slate to start again. Perhaps an atavistic, ritual punishment for him, through the courts, is the only way to begin that process.

Who would do it, though? The Met Police – in the pockets of the powerful? The answer is every single one of us – citizens all – can report a crime. Nor is there anything to stop citizens launching private prosecutions.

The chances of this, it’s clear, are infinitesimal. Even if a charge could be brought, even if a case could be led in court, a nation of such slavish obeisance and deference, such class-based grovelling, would never put the powerful on trial.

Yet, if we simply talk about the notion loudly enough, the powerful will hear us – and that alone will put the fear of god in them, and perhaps, deter the next Boris Johnson from trying his luck against the British people again.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald

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