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Rotten Climate: Boris Johnson's performance at COP26 has been a national embarrassment

Rotten Climate: Boris Johnson's performance at COP26 has been a national embarrassment

It was inevitable, really. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

That when he should be expected to go high, he goes low.

That when he should rise to the occasion. To show integrity, honesty and true leadership. That when the eyes of the world were upon him. That when the moment came to bring continents together, to bind countries and to inspire people. To exercise the diplomatic leverage demanded to galvanise and persuade political leaders into a renewed and collective endeavour to reverse the man-made atrocities that have led to this existential threat to our planet. That when the time came for him to summon some sense of the gravitas required, that instead of him being able to fulfil a childhood dream, and within the context of COP26, project an image of himself as World King, our prime minister proved himself, yet again, to be nothing short of a court jester.

The Brian Rix of Downing Street, living life in the farce lane, still hanging onto the misguided belief that as long as they are laughing, then they are with you. 

This time, he could be wrong.

There are few laughs to be gained from your premier being traduced as a scoundrel on the global stage. Little joy to revel in Johnson being exposed as the dishonourable leader of a pack of rogues. No hilarity in him being shown up as a sham of a kingpin in front of the poorest nations of the world who have done less to contribute to this catastrophe but feel the consequences so much more keenly, and who are looking to him for their lifeline. 

The man is a charlatan and there are not enough adjectives in a thesaurus to fully describe his puerility


And yet at this time of need, when the impoverished, the dwindling and those nearing extinction, look to our prime minister for leadership, for integrity, for honesty, for their survival, that it is at this moment that he is left having to deny that this country – the one he leads, the one which has the presidency of COP26, that bears that heavy responsibility for the honest brokerage that could still help shift the dial to reverse climate change and save the world – is corrupt.

It’s a dereliction of the seriousness of the moment. But what else could we expect? It’s pure Boris, and in Glasgow parlance, it’s not dead brilliant.

We know Boris Johnson is an embarrassment of a prime minister. We know that he has lied and conned his way into No 10. That he has broken the rules, that he has twisted and ignored laws to try and force through his will. That he supports cheats and tests his shamelessness against Cabinet colleagues who he uses as his proxy to defend the indefensible.

We know that his promises mean little and that he ignores the normal rules of political engagement. That he disappears when blame comes around. That he is so contemptuous of democracy, he tried to prorogue Parliament, has ignored EU treaties and is an ongoing and present threat to peace in Northern Ireland.

This is a man who will do anything if it means he can win. And while he plays the ‘Big I Am’, it is down to him that a woman languishes in an Iranian jail, that her young daughter is without her mother, and her husband is starving himself to death outside the Foreign Office in protest. But Johnson’s gauche part in the scandal of the ongoing incarceration in Iran of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was nothing if not an early clue in what has become the hallmark of his failure to take responsibility for anything. Johnson has done more heavy lifting for his avaricious mate Owen Paterson than he has to help free Nazanin.

And now, in the final days of a summit to save the world, he is standing on a platform in Glasgow at COP26, bumbling his way through an explanation of why the UK is not corrupt.

Of claiming that MPs found breaking the parliamentary rules should be punished, and all the while expecting us to forget the corrupt activities of the past few days when he threw his support behind Owen Paterson who had clearly broken the rules, forced his MPs into a shameless vote, and then reversed them all into an equally shameless about-turn. 

This is Boris Johnson all over.

“When are leaders going to lead,” asks the man who has led his own party into disrepute. The man who cared so little about the environment that he spent a couple of hours at COP26 urging others to do the right thing before flying back to London for a meeting with a climate denier who urged that the afore-mentioned Paterson should be absolved. 

The man is a charlatan and there are not enough adjectives in a thesaurus to fully describe his puerility.

But we should have expected nothing less. That in the final days of a COP billed as ‘the last best chance to save the planet’, that with this prime minister leading the show, the media wouldn’t ask about new carbon emission targets, tough sanctions on deal-breakers, or announcements of massive cash injections to help solve the undeniable threat to the planet’s existence, no, of course they would ask about sleaze. His sleaze. His party’s sleaze.

And faced with a prime minister who decried other unnamed nations – because who in his position would ever deign to name and shame – for their addictions to fossil fuels, not one journalist had the temerity to ask the PM about the possible opening of new coal mines in Cumbria or the decision still to be made about further gas and oil exploration at Cambo.

Johnson has done more heavy lifting for his avaricious mate Owen Paterson than he has to help free Nazanin


No, at a gathering of world leaders and expert technocrats grappling with the enormity of the imminent danger to the world, we were diminished by our fixation – justifiable, all the same – about Johnson’s many other hypocrisies and misdemeanours.

There are so many reasons for Johnson to go but when the history of his premiership is eventually told, he’ll be less remembered for his attempts to emulate Churchill and more as the oaf who tried to escape from a corruption crisis by going maskless in a hospital during a health crisis.

Who would have thought that Johnson’s chance to save the world at COP26 would end with him simply trying to save his own skin?

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