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ISomething happens when there is more responsibility in a hereditary monarchy than in our elected government. Even at Buckingham Palace, his actions have consequences, as Prince Andrew learned on Thursday when he was removed from his post. At the Palace of Westminster, not so much.

The contrast could hardly be sharper. On the one hand, a queen so determined to show she wasn’t above the rules that she cried alone as she bury the man she loved for 73 years. On the other, a Prime Minister running Downing Street as a house of fraternity, where bottles would have been brought by the suitcase and they would have danced in the basement even on the eve of this austere royal funeral, even in the midst of a locking.

And yet, Johnson remains in his post, his titles still his to use. There is confident chatter, informed by the newspapers, that he will get away with it. Her team is already prepping the report from Civil Service Inquisitor Sue Gray suggesting she will find no wrongdoing – willfully disregarding the role of her investigation – thus setting the bar low enough for Johnson to say that he authorized it and we should all move on.

Meanwhile, his supporters, and even some of his opponents, are working on what serves them best: chase him away or let him stay. There are conservatives looking at the calendar, asking if the May local election might be the time. There are Labor wondering if it might be helpful to have a weakened Johnson to strike by the next general election.

I understand all of these calculations. But what does it mean for our system if it is allowed to hang on? What does he say about us?

How about, for example, our eternal bragging rights that we are a society subject to the rule of law that the man who sets the rules is allowed to break them and break them so blatantly? I know it’s hard to keep track, but the party we were all focused on before the basement nightclub reveal was May 20, 2020, when the lockdown was still a relative novelty and most British people watched themselves with extraordinary self-discipline and self-sacrifice. Johnson says he went to that garden party, which his wife and some of his friends attended, where the gin and rosé were flowing, and thought he was at a “work event”. No one in their right mind believes this to be true. But if he stays in his job, we say we accept it.

What will he say about the allegedly inviolable convention that a minister who lies or deceives the House of Commons must resign? Johnson was guilty of it on Wednesday with this ‘work event’ nonsense, but it wasn’t the first time. On December 1 last year, when asked about one of the seemingly daily Downing Street parties that had just been revealed, Johnson told MPs that “all guidelines were fully followed in the issue 10 “. This was obviously wrong, and he must have known it was wrong because he himself had witnessed such a rule-breaking party on May 20, 2020. Whatever elaborate outlet he tries to build, we can all see the truth. If Johnson’s lie goes unpunished, a convention that has evolved to allow the public to feel a basic level of trust in his government will have been shattered.

It will hurt our democratic health, but what will it mean to our literal health if Johnson is allowed to stay? If there were to be a serious new variant of this disease, which demands a return to full lockdown, it is clear that he could not impose it. The country would simply refuse to follow the instructions of a man who so blatantly laughed at them last time around. Indeed, it is not clear that a government can impose such restrictions again: the electorate may well conclude from this episode that all the politicians and their officials are as hypocritical as the current gang inside the n ° 10 and refuse to comply. It is a grim possibility. But with Johnson himself, that’s for sure. The country cannot go through a public health crisis with this man at the helm. If that was true of Matt Hancock kissing his lover – a point Johnson conceded when he accepted Hancock’s resignation – then it’s a hundred times truer of him.

Of course, there were a number of reasons Johnson was pulled out, before we even knew he had turned Downing Street into Studio 54 in Whitehall. The High Court on Wednesday ruled that the government’s use of a “VIP lane” to award lucrative PPE contracts during the first wave of the pandemic was illegal, once again exposing the light a pattern of behavior which, it has been spotted in any country other than ours, we would call corruption. What does it say about us that no one thinks for a minute that Johnson will be kicked out of all of this?

Many will now be hoping that Sue Gray will come to the rescue, in calm Mandarin prose, she will unambiguously pronounce the Prime Minister guilty. But it’s a fantasy, just like it was a fantasy to expect Robert Mueller to overthrow Donald Trump for collusion with Russia, or Robin Butler to dismiss Tony Blair over Iraq. I spoke to Lord Butler on Friday, and he reminded me that inquiries like this are not aimed at finding guilt or innocence, but only at establishing the facts. He thinks Gray will explain “what happened. It is then up to others to make judgments. These others will include the police, who will determine if there is any evidence of criminal activity. It’s their job, not Gray’s. This is why it is so dishonest of Downing Street to inform that the official will be speaking out on a question she was not asked.

Johnson’s fate will not be decided by her, but by politics: first by MPs and, if necessary, by the people. Former Johnson editor-in-chief at The Telegraph, Max Hastings, once wrote that if Johnson, a man he believed “would not recognize the truth if confronted with it on an identity parade” became Prime Minister, this would demonstrate that Britain was no longer “a serious country.” If we allow Johnson to remain Prime Minister, given all he has done and all we have seen, that would say something good thing, much worse.

  • Jonathan Freedland is a Guardian columnist

  • Join our reporters for a Guardian Live online event on Lockdown Party # 10 and Boris Johnson’s Future at 8-9 p.m. GMT on Wednesday, January 19. Book here


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