‘Boris is the worst’
• Abbott says ‘brazen’ British PM the most reckless of three leaders felled by flaws since 2016 • Hopes for slavery reparation could lie with Prince William, more progressive gov’t
History-making British Member of Parliament (MP) Diane Abbott pulled on the Jamaican vernacular to describe the embattled Boris Johnson, calling him the architect of his political downfall as he fell on a sword of lies last week amid the collapse...
History-making British Member of Parliament (MP) Diane Abbott pulled on the Jamaican vernacular to describe the embattled Boris Johnson, calling him the architect of his political downfall as he fell on a sword of lies last week amid the collapse of his government.
In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner on Friday, Abbott said that the partygate scandal had hastened the dramatic end to Johnson’s time as leader of the Conservative Party and, ultimately, as the British prime minister.
She noted that the British public found it hard to countenance the image of the then 95-year-old Queen having to sit alone at St George’s Chapel during the April 2021 funeral for her husband of 73 years, Prince Philip, as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, which Johnson and associates flouted hours earlier as they partied behind closed doors at his 10 Downing Street official residence.
Johnson was forced to apologise to the Queen and fined by the police for attending the birthday party while the country was under pandemic lockdown rules.
“I think that had a particular effect on Conservative voters. Conservative voters really love their Queen, and there, she – all of us, really – took the lockdown seriously. She is seated alone at her beloved husband’s funeral, and people just saw that. And also people knew others who were not able to go to their sick mothers. They are not able to go the funeral. People have suffered because of the lockdown. And Boris is partying at Number 10?” said Abbott, who was born in England to a British-Jamaican family.
“I read ... that one of his staff members at one point went to a liquor store and bought all these bottles of wine in a suitcase and wheeled it back ’round to Number 10. I think of all the things he did, this thing about partying in Number 10, when people were suffering, including the Queen, was one of the most damaging things,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.
Subsequent denials in the face of evidence began turning the tide against Johnson.
“That’s why in the end we got rid of him because the MPs just thought he was ‘wutless’,” said Abbott. “It was just lie after lie after lie, and he was completely brazen. Any other British prime minister would have stepped down of their own accord, but because Boris is so arrogant, so entitled and so utterly wutless, he was just gonna go on, and on, and on ... .”
She believes Johnson is the worst of the three Conservative leaders who have resigned in the last six years.
Johnson was ushered into office in 2019 when Teresa May threw in the towel after failing to get parliamentary support for the terms of her Brexit deal.
“Teresa May was actually quite straightforward; she didn’t tell lies,” Abbott reflected.
“I would say he (Boris) is the worst. I mean David Cameron was of a similar background – upper middle class, private school, Oxford [University] and so on – but he wasn’t quite as reckless as Boris Johnson,” she said.
Cameron, May’s predecessor, had resigned in 2016 after six years of premiership when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.
Johnson’s unfulfilled Brexit promises became part of his self-fulfilling prophesy of political doom.
“He was like the Prince of Brexit, but all that’s happened is that the British economy generally has suffered. There was a narrative at the time of Brexit about all these Europeans [who] were coming over here taking our jobs. Okay, fine. We came out of Europe; we no longer have those large numbers of Eastern Europeans and so on coming into Britain,” Abbott explained.
But what unfolded not even he could contemplate.
“They can’t find people to do the jobs. They don’t have enough lorry drivers. They don’t have enough people to pick fruits; I mean, fruits and vegetable are lying rotting in the fields, because the farmers are no longer able to bring over the Eastern Europeans. So what has damaged Boris and the pro-Brexit people was that, just as some had said, it was bad for the British economy,” she stated.
Johnson has often been compared to former US President Donald Trump with both men sharing a penchant for brash statements, flouting the rules and a campaign-style approach to government.
“ ... Even now, I’m a bit worried. He announced his resignation, and I looked at the speech online because I was on the flight to Jamaica, and it’s meant to be a resignation speech and he never used the word resigned.
“So some of us think that in his mind, Boris hasn’t resigned and is insisting on hanging until October, thinking that something will turn up,” she said addressing his belief of entitlement to office.
Johnson, she said, “always thinks that something will work out”, given that he has weathered several storms before the latest scandal that he was aware of sexual assault allegations against Chris Pincher before appointing him in the government as deputy chief whip.
Johnson allegedly used the phrase “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature” when reshuffling his team in 2020.
With Johnson departure date set for October, Abbott drew reference to former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who had lost elections, but did not leave office.
Trump had also refused to concede the 2020 election to President Joe Biden, mounting court challenges and urging states to find the votes to turn the tide in his favour.
“So we are a bit worried about that,” said Abbott.
Abortion, Commonwealth, Windrush
Abbott, the first black woman elected to the British Parliament and the longest-serving black MP in the House of Commons, is in Jamaica on the invitation of People’s National Party (PNP) Women’s Movement President Patricia Duncan Sutherland and is set to deliver the keynote address at the organisation’s conference today.
Among the issues she will speak on are gender parity; domestic violence; women in politics; and the recent overturn of Roe v Wade, which guaranteed abortion rights in the United States.
Abbott said that the re-criminalising of abortion in several US states is largely a Republican issue, noting that even though there are divergent individual views in the UK, abortion has the support of all parties.
She believes that abortions should be safe, legal and rare.
The daughter of Jamaican Windrushers who was first elected in 1987 and has retained her seat since told The Sunday Gleaner that she will continue to serve as long as health allows.
“Politics is about the people’s business, and as long as I remain well enough, I want to continue being a voice for the people,” said Abbott.
She said that Jamaica’s decision to field a candidate to challenge the incumbent Commonwealth secretary general was a surprise for many.
“It’s not for me to comment on Jamaican Government and what it chose to do. Some of us were surprised that Jamaica ran its own candidate and it’s striking that most of the support came from white Commonwealth countries like Australia, Britain, Canada, and so on. But I am sure she would have made a good secretary general,” Abbott said of Jamaica’s Kamina Johnson Smith.
Abbott said she was not sure how Baroness Patricia Scotland managed to earn the ire of PM Johnson, who had served as secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs between 2016 and 2018.
Johnson was also Commonwealth chair-in-office up to June 24, completing a two-year term.
Under Johnson, Britain suspended funding the Scotland-led Commonwealth Secretariat and convinced other Commonwealth countries to follow suit.
Scotland was re-elected last month to complete the remaining two years of an eight-year stint.
“I keep asking, ‘What has Patricia Scotland done to upset those people?’ I don’t know. There is clearly something, because they wanted her out, but I genuinely can’t tell you,” said Abbott.
Abbott said that while there is a lot of sentiment for the Queen in the Commonwealth, the future of the 56-member bloc will be tested once she is no longer the monarch.
“The Queen is 96, and my view is, and I have said this publicly, that once the Queen passes away, we will see the Commonwealth start to crumble because Commonwealth countries aren’t getting anything out of the Commonwealth,” she stated.
And as it relates to talks of Jamaica becoming a republic, Abbott asked, “How do you let Barbados get ahead of you on this?”
Barbados last year removed the Queen as head of state, while remaining a member of the Commonwealth.
A point of bother for Abbott is that only one in four persons entitled to compensation has received payment following the Windrush scandal, which saw Britain disenfranchising many Caribbean people from British citizenship and benefits after working there for generations.
“I was on a committee and we questioned the permanent secretary, the top civil servant at the Home Office, and I said to him, ‘What are you doing? Are you waiting on the people to die so you won’t have to pay any compensation at all?’
“It’s a scandal how they have delayed payment of compensation. But I think that what Windrush did, it kind of made West Indians – and Jamaicans, in particular – less sentimental about their links to the UK and to look more closely at what they are entitled to,” she said.
Abbott finds it distasteful that slave owners received compensation while the enslaved people received nothing at Emancipation.
“I can say with confidence that there will be no settlement for reparations under a Conservative government, but it may be with other governments. And even Prince William (heir to the throne) has been talking a little bit about reparations. It may be with a different government. With a different attitude, it may be possible towards proper reparation because the argument is well made. I think you have to wait for Prince William to come to the throne, and you have to wait for a more progressive government,” said MP Abbott.