Last week, I questioned Boris Johnson’s character, his ability to tell the truth, and how his behaviour was trashing the UK’s reputation for honesty and fair-dealing.
Well, it seems I am not alone in that analysis.
I don’t think I have ever heard a more damning judgement than the one delivered by Lady Hale today, on behalf of a unanimous Supreme Court, on the unlawful attempt to prorogue Parliament. I say ‘attempt’ because the judges said that all the actions following the purported propagation of parliament had no effect.
Lady Hale said:
“It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence that has been put before us, that there was any reason, let alone a good reason, to advise Her Majesty to prorogue parliament for 5 weeks….the decision was unlawful.”
As the Speaker of the House of Commons accurately summarised:
“That judgment is unanimous, that judgment is unambiguous and that judgment is unqualified.”
So, in this case, Boris Johnson misled his own Cabinet, he misled Parliament and he misled the Queen. I have little doubt that a previous Queen Elizabeth (Ist) would have had his head off by now!
We will obviously return to these matters in due course.
However, Boris Johnson did get one thing right this week. It’s probably the exception that proves the rule!
He criticised the directors of Thomas Cook for paying themselves squillions before the 178-year-old tour company went “down the tubes”. Mr Johnson said it was “bewildering” that the taxpayer should be forced to pay millions to rescue 150,000 British holidaymakers stranded abroad. It will be the biggest repatriation effort since the Second World War.
Actually, it’s a bill of tens of millions that you and I, the taxpayers, will be picking up to bring holidaying families safely home and to contribute to the staff’s redundancy pay. Further, there are questions to ask about why the government wasn’t intervening before this time to minimise the costs and the disruption.
But I agree with the criticism of the directors and shareholders of Thomas Cook about the tens of millions that have been spent on executive pay over the last five years.
So, it is in the same spirit that I have tabled questions about the demise of All Star Lanes, a company which owns five bowling alleys. It was sold last week in a pre-pack administration, effectively to a new company using the same brand, the same alleys and with the same staff. However, that sale is likely to be at the expense of the majority of the company’s creditors. These are the other businesses that were owed money by All Star Lanes. It also means that taxpayers – again that’s you and me – will have to pick up a big bill because the company has not been handing over taxes – VAT, income tax, business rates etc
Well, you may say, companies sometimes fail and everyone gets hurt. That’s of course true.
However, in the case of All Star Lanes, it had paid out a bumper dividend of £16 million to its shareholders and £600,000 bonuses to its managers last year after selling one of its properties, leaving the company underfunded.
So, the secured creditors – like the banks – get paid, the shareholders and managers enjoy bumper profits and bonuses, whilst the little guys (the small businesses which have provided goods and services) don’t get paid and the public purse gets stuffed.
You’re right. It stinks.
And, in principle and effect, it is absolutely no different from the Thomas Cook debacle. In fact, the Thomas Cook demise may be down to managerial incompetence whereas the demise of All Star Lanes directly flowed from the bumper pay-outs to managers and shareholders.
So, is there any reason why Boris Johnson might not be equally scathing and less committed to investigations into events at All Star Lanes? Other than the fact that one of the shareholders who enjoyed a bumper pay-out is multi-millionaire Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith?
You can understand why I’m asking questions of government ministers.