Voices: Boris Johnson is typing... the PM’s WhatsApp excuse is laughable

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‘You actually have to go out of your way to delete them’  (PA Wire)
‘You actually have to go out of your way to delete them’ (PA Wire)

It should say the date, somewhere just above there, where you’re reading now. Feel free to check. This, it brings me no pleasure at all to report, is the now daily column on what Boris Johnson has been lying about.

You might feel like you’ve read it before. But you probably haven’t. There are a new set of lies provided at regular intervals in each 24-hour period, and it falls to me to try and write down as many of them as I can.

Today’s lies are compound-compound lies. They concern previous lies that were told to cover up some older lies, in service of which the prime minister has had to invent some new lies, to try and keep the original ones intact. No one believes them, of course, because they’re not true, but that stopped mattering a long time ago.

To the Geidt Report then, which you may or may not recall was one of two publicly-funded investigations into Boris Johnson’s attempts to get Tory donors to pay for a £112,000 refurb to his Downing Street flat, including £800-a-roll golden wallpaper.

It should be stated for legal purposes that despite Johnson’s best efforts, it didn’t actually happen. He had to pay the cash himself, the end consequence being that he now lives in a publicly-owned building, furnished with a hundred grand of his own money, in which you’d be brave to bet much on his tenancy having more than a year left to run.

It is, arguably, the mark of the man, the actual prime minister, that you have to type out the words, he tried his best but turned out to be completely useless – or otherwise he’d be able to sue you.

Anyway. You might recall that Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, recently cleared Johnson of wrongdoing; that he didn’t know anyone was trying to pay for his flat refurbishment.

And Lord Geidt was made to look rather silly when the other investigation into the same matter, by the Electoral Commission, had actual WhatsApp messages – sent by Boris Johnson, to the Tory donor, Lord Brownlow, who originally paid for the entire thing, telling him that his flat “is a bit of a tip and am keen to allow Lulu Lytle to get on with it”.

Lulu Lytle, of course, did get on with it. The £112,000 bill was paid by Lord Brownlow, before Johnson was forced to give him the money back. At this point, we the public are expected to believe this was all completely fine, because Johnson didn’t know who was paying the money.

Geidt was (and is) furious that these WhatsApp messages were never sent to him, given they contain the prime minister telling a Tory donor to get on with the flat refurb that, at this point, Johnson apparently didn’t even know who was paying for.

So Geidt has had to write another report, and this one contains a lie for the ages. Johnson’s new claim is that he had forgotten to tell Geidt about these WhatsApp messages because he’d had to change his phone when his number was leaked – and he didn’t have them anymore.

There’s naturally a lot to unpack here. First, there’s the fact that changing your number doesn’t mean you lose your old WhatsApp messages any more, you actually have to go out of your way to delete them.

Two, deleting these messages is itself a breach of the ministerial code. And third, there’s the staggeringly obvious fact that it isn’t even about the WhatsApp messages. He never once declared to Lord Geidt that he’d been openly discussing with Lord Brownlow his urgent wish that Lord Brownlow get in touch with his interior designer and get on with things.

That, in itself, is the entirety of the wrongdoing. He was advised it was illegal to get a dodgy trust to pay his astronomical home-improvement bill, but tried to do it anyway; and is now claiming he doesn’t remember because he changed his phone and doesn’t have access to his old WhatsApps.

It is so laughable, an analogy is hardly possible. It is like a burglar, caught climbing in a window with a big bag with SWAG written on, subsequently claiming in court they forgot they were intending to rob a house because they didn’t have access to their WhatsApps anymore, and specifically the one that said, “let’s go and rob a house later”.

Geidt, naturally, has accepted the explanation, though he has written a very strongly-worded letter, which Johnson will no doubt get someone else to skim read before throwing in the bin.

In the meantime, as we write, for the eighty eighth day in a row, about Boris Johnson’s lies, it does feel like the plot might be narrowing, throwing off its fuel tanks and honing in on an ending.

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For three full years, all there was to write about was Brexit, which was, in other words, to write about Boris Johnson’s lies. Then there all there was to write about was Covid, which was not exclusively about Boris Johnson’s lies, it was also about his incompetence, which he then lied about.

Now it’s actual public debate, weeks of it, dedicated to the fact that the prime minister can’t tell the truth about his own home furnishings.

Now, the plot has been distilled to its most concentrated form. That feels like a breaking point, like the end of something. The news agenda is now taken up not merely by Johnson’s lies, but by Johnson’s lies about himself, about his actual flat, and his previous lies about them.

It’s meant merely to be a tangled web, all this. It feels more like a death spiral.

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