Boris Johnson “shredded” the ministerial code over the partygate scandal and has become a “great debaser of decency” in political life, according to an eminent historian.
Five days after Mr Johnson was issued with a fixed-penalty notice for flouting Covid regulations, and refused to resign, Lord Peter Hennessy said it was the “most severe constitutional crisis involving a prime minister”.
Delivering his scathing criticism, the history of government expert said: “The Queen’s first minister is now beyond doubt a rouge prime minister, unworthy of her, her Parliament, her people, and her kingdom.
“I cannot remember a day when I’ve been more fearful for the well-being constitution,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House.
Reading from his diary entry on Tuesday — when No 10 first confirmed the prime minister had been fined by the Metropolitan Police — the historian said it will “forever be remembered as a dark, bleak day for British public and political life”.
“It is the day that Boris Johnson became the great debaser in modern times of decency in public and political life, and of our constitutional conventions — our very system of government,” the crossbench peer said.
The crossbench peer, who is the Attlee professor of contemporary British history at Queen Mary University London, added: “The prime minister sealed his place in British history as the first law-breaker to have occupied the premiership — an office he has sullied like no other, turning it into an adventure playground for one man’s narcissistic vanity.
“Boris Johnson has broken the law, misled Parliament, and has, in effect, shredded the ministerial code, which is a crucial part of the spinal cord of the constitution.”
But speaking on the BBC’s the World at One, cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said he disagreed with Lord Hennessy’s “understanding of the constitutional significance of the ministerial code, which he was talking about”.
“The ministerial code is not a legislative part of our constitution, it is a set of guidelines produced by the Prime Minister.”
Mr Rees-Mogg said that when Mr Johnson told MPs rules had been followed in No 10 during Covid restrictions: “I think that the prime minister spoke to Parliament in good faith.”
He added: “I think that when you hear what happened on the party for which he has been fined, many people would think that they were in accordance with the rules, when they were meeting people they were with every day, who happened to wish them a happy birthday, because that was the day it was.
“I think that was a perfectly rational thing to believe. Now the police have decided otherwise and the police have an authority. But he wasn’t thinking something irrational or unreasonable, that that was within the rules.”