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Teetering on the brink ...




‘Things could go crazy quickly.’ The US President’s verdict on Ukraine is a terrifying statement of the obvious. And for once no one’s disputed Boris Johnson’s analysis – that Europe’s facing its biggest security crisis in decades. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, his own problems also remain incendiary.


For six months after Neville Chamberlain’s September 1939 announcement, that we were at war with Germany, not much seemed to happen.


But calling it a ‘phoney war’ was, as history relates, a dangerous illusion.


Chances are not being taken this time, however. Which is why British and American citizens have been told to get out of Ukraine. Now.


Russia’s President Putin says he’s not going to invade. But take one look at him. Would you buy a used Lada from this man?


Back home, meanwhile, though on a less terrifying level, Boris Johnson’s veracity is also being called into question.


His fightback includes huffing and puffing at the Russians. And claiming he’s, ahem, got Covid done.


He’s taken a punt on ending all pandemic restrictions in a week or so. And, if he’s got that bit right, folk will thank him for it.


Besides which, with MP’s on hols they won’t be taking parliamentary partygate potshots at him for the moment.


Back on their home turf, however, constituents’ rage could drive more of them into submitting no-confidence letters in their leader.


And if the magic fifty-four figure is reached they could vote, by proxy, to get him out. Any day.


Probably not, in reality. But in the current febrile atmosphere pretty much anything is possible.


After all, Johnson is among the fifty Downing Street bods being questioned by Knacker of The Yard about those naughty parties.


And he did look a bit banged to rights when the Mirror published a pic of him at a virtual Christmas quiz, at a table with an open bottle of champagne.


One of his colleagues was sporting a Santa hat, while another had tinsel draped around his neck.


Looks like? Quacks like …?


Barrister Adam Wagner, an expert on Covid legislation, suspects Johnson could be hit with ten grands’ worth of fixed term penalty notices.


Hence this from one top Tory: ‘We are supposed to be the party of law and order. We can’t have a prime minister who has received a criminal penalty.’


That MP chose to remain nameless, unlike former Conservative Prime Minister John Major, who gave Boris both barrels last week.


OK, he’s no fan, but his claims that laws were broken and the public misled with ‘brazen excuses’ and ‘unbelievable’ claims will likely resonate.


On top of that there’s the Starmer/Saville spat. Johnson’s insinuation that the Labour leader protected the nation’s worst sex offender misfired badly.


Everyone from the Commons speaker to cabinet colleagues and a trusted senior adviser took exception.


But reining back a little didn’t fix it (sic), as the row was reignited by the angry brigade who spat the same nonsense at Starmer in the street.


No one could see that coming. But it’s a truism that a Prime Minister’s prime attribute is luck. And Johnson’s fell short at that point.


Same went for London’s soon-to-be ex top cop Cressida Dick, when the Mayor pulled the rug from under her feet.


Her announcing she’d go just hours after insisting she wouldn’t calls to mind another political axiom: ‘Nothing is ever true until it’s officially denied.’


The jury’s out, manner of speaking, about whether some of the cops’ unspeakable attitudes and actions are down to her.


But on her watch a serving officer did rape and murder a defenceless woman.


And misogynistic, homophobic and racist messages were bandied around by supposed guardians of law and order at Charing Cross police station.


All this, plus plenty more, has dealt a body blow to public trust in police in general, and London police in particular.


So there’s no question it’s a less than supercharged Met now investigating whether Boris Johnson broke his own laws over all those parties.


It’s also fair to say the British Prime Minister shaking his fist at President Putin is himself on shaky ground.


The ground under the feet of the good people of Ukraine is also trembling, what with more than a hundred thousand Russian troops on its border.


That said, the defending army apparently numbers twice that. Getting the tanks on their lawn will not be the end of the matter then.


So what exactly is Putin’s pout? Clearly he wants the west to lick his boots, and his insistence he’s not going in feel reminiscent of Hitler.


All that sham diplomacy was a ploy, no more, while he got the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe fully battle-ready.


The Kremlin will doubtless he heartened by President Biden’s warning that Yanks shooting Russians would be World War Three, so he’s not going there.


Scary times, nonetheless. Seriously scary.


But most political decisions are a gamble. Take Boris Johnson’s opting, what seems a lifetime ago, to back Brexit.


It was reported at the time that, to clear his head, he wrote two articles for the Telegraph. One arguing for Remain, the other for Leave.


And it’s claimed that Guto Harri, his new press supremo, elevated as part of the putative post-partygate clean-up, said he recognises he goofed.


Or, for accuracy’s sake, to give the exact quote: ‘He knows he’s f***** up massively.’


Of course this will be denied. But what’s that about nothing ever being true until …?


Certainly the sunny uplands originally promised are taking their time getting through. Same as lorries queuing for up to four hours at Dover.


All thanks, according to a cross-party commons report last week, to post-Brexit border checks, that might get even more stringent later this year.


Thanks a bunch, says Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association. We now have ‘friction where none existed’.


And committee chair Meg Hillier is every bit as scathing about the brave new world of Brexit freedoms:


‘The only detectable impact so far is increased costs, paperwork and border delays.’


There’s a word of warning also for those savouring new post pandemic freedom to jet to the sun, to check their passport. Very carefully.


The pre-Brexit requirement for it just to be up to date for travel throughout most of Europe no longer cuts it.


It now has to have at least three months’ validity on top. An added snag is the British government’s habit of bunging on a bit extra.


Rules is rules. And the EU now says the document’s kaput nine years and nine moths after it was issued. Not a day more.


Sounds like nitpicking? Not to those who’ve been turned back at the checkpoint, having shelled out maybe thousands for their lovely holiday.


Doubtless Johnson’s mini-reshuffle of last week, in which Jacob Rees-Mogg was appointed Minister for Brexit Opportunities, will sort it.


He has after all the air of a chap who thinks all foreigners are rotters. Or bounders. Or cads. Or, very likely, all three.


Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.



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