Government looks 'distinctly shifty' says Sir John Major

John Major

Former Prime Minister John Major - and for 20 years MP for Huntingdon - offering a hard hitting view of standards in public life in a keynote speech in London. - Credit: Dominic Lipsinksi/PA wIRE

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major warned that attempts to excuse the breaking of lockdown laws by No 10 is undermining trust in government and politics. 

The former Huntingdon MP said the "foolish behaviour" and "evasive" tactics of ministers are having a "corrosive" effect on the UK's democracy. 

In a hard-hitting speech to the Institute for Government in London, he strongly condemned the way Boris Johnson has responded to the disclosures about lockdown parties in No 10. 

"At No 10, the Prime Minister and officials broke lockdown laws," he said. 

"Brazen excuses were dreamed up. Day after day the public was asked to believe the unbelievable.  

“Ministers were sent out to defend the indefensible - making themselves look gullible or foolish. 

"Collectively, this has made the Government look distinctly shifty, which has consequences that go far beyond political unpopularity.  

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“No Government can function properly if its every word is treated with suspicion." 

"Trust in politics is at a low ebb, eroded by foolish behaviour, leaving a sense of unease about how our politics is being conducted.  

“Too often, ministers have been evasive, and the truth has been optional.” 

He added: "In our democracy, we are able to speak truth to power. But if democracy is to be respected, power must also speak truth to the people. And yet, in recent years, they have not been doing so." 

Sir John said the behaviour of some MPs was tarnishing the reputation of politics and of Parliament. 

He said: "If lies become commonplace, truth ceases to exist. What and who, then, can we believe? The risk is nothing and no-one. And where are we then?" 

He said all this is taking place against the backdrop of the Prime Minister being investigated for several apparent breaches of the ministerial code. 

"The Prime Minister and our present Government not only challenge the law, but also seem to believe that they - and they alone - need not obey the rules, traditions, conventions - call them what you will - of public life. 

"The charge that there is one law for the Government and one for everyone else is politically deadly - and it has struck home."