Everyone can see Johnson has to go, but his party has no grip on reality

The last gasps of any government is a grimly fascinating sight. Just two and a half years after he won the 2019 election, Boris Johnson’s pathological lying, law-breaking and shamelessness, which so many people warned made him unfit to govern, have left him still squatting in office, but out of power.

The problem for the Conservatives is that the rot that has corrupted their party as a result of Johnson’s leadership runs all the way through it. There is nothing honourable about those government ministers who have just made the calculation that resigning now will benefit their own careers. Just as there is nothing courageous about the dozens of Tory backbenchers who are only now speaking out.

Rishi Sunak, Sajid Javid and every other frontbencher who has resigned in the last 24 hours defended Boris Johnson when he hosted law-breaking parties in No 10 while the country missed weddings and funerals, and were denied access to dying relatives.

They defended Johnson when he changed the rules to protect Owen Paterson after it was found he had used his position in parliament to lobby on behalf of private companies.

And they continue to defend the Conservatives’ reckless policy agenda: including plans to unilaterally tear up the Northern Ireland protocol – which they only recently negotiated – risking the hard-won Good Friday agreement Labour helped secure in Northern Ireland, and trashing the UK’s reputation for standing up for the rule of law.

It is the willingness of the entire Conservative party to ignore the law, domestically and internationally, that means no new Tory leader will be trusted on the world stage.

I am not speculating when I say this. As shadow foreign secretary, in recent months I have had the privilege of speaking frankly with senior leaders from around the world. Behind closed doors, many of them admit that they see the chaos that has engulfed the Conservative government as a joke. They ask basic questions about what Britain stands for and whether we can be relied upon.

It’s hard to blame them. How can foreign leaders trust the UK to make new security and trade agreements when the party in power has shown it has no problem unilaterally reneging on them? How can we lecture authoritarians around the world on human rights when the Tories are putting forward plans to override the European court of human rights which defends them?

With the war in Ukraine, global inflation rocketing and the climate crisis, Britain needs to return to its place as a leader of the multilateral, rules-based order more than ever. This sad reality for the British public is that this is impossible under the Conservatives.

Throughout my 22 years in parliament, I’ve had serious disagreements with every single incarnation of the Conservative party. But this time it’s different. The Conservatives don’t just have the wrong leader. They aren’t just wrong on policy. They are not only incompetent. They have entered a dreamlike fantasy. They have lost touch with reality, truth and the fundamental belief in the rule of law that has previously bound all political parties.

Only a fresh election that delivers a new government will be able to serve in the national interest, and restore Britain’s standing on the world stage.

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