Wed 2 December 2020

The appointment of Boris Johnson’s cabinet has confirmed the worst fears for those who doubted he would rebuild a ‘One Nation Tory’-style government and suggests he believes in his own rhetoric about a pro-Remain ‘deep state’.

With all the major figures coming from the mendacious and unlawful Vote Leave campaign, not to mention the “trio of toxic advisers” Dominic Cummings, Matthew Elliott and Chloe Westley, this looks more like a hard Brexit campaign, steeped in online propaganda, illegal overspends and with multiple connections to the world of opaquely funded right-wing think tanks.

More troubling still is the number of people now in power who are potentially under criminal investigation.

As Byline Times revealed this February, the Metropolitan Police’s ongoing investigation into unlawful activity by the Vote Leave and Leave.EU campaigns includes up to a dozen senior politicians as potential subjects of interest. Given that the new Home Secretary Priti Patel was a senior member of Vote Leave, this leaves open the possibility that the cabinet minister in charge of Scotland Yard could be a focus of their investigations. We can only hope that Met Commissioner Cressida Dick is robustly defending the independence of law enforcement from the executive.

Equally disturbing is that central bulwark of the British (unwritten) constitution – the independence of the civil service. The Prime Minister has already suggested, darkly, that “there is a plot by the deep state to frustrate Brexit”.

Since the forced resignation of one of Britain’s most senior civil servants, US ambassador Sir Kim Darroch, after sensitive cables were leaked to Isabel Oakeshott and the Mail on Sunday, this newspaper has heard from half a dozen senior civil servants and diplomats, speculating that an insider was behind this compromising of national security. As the Sunday Times reported last week, investigations so far suggest that the leak came from someone with “historic access” to the cables. Since the distribution list for these encrypted communications included only a dozen or so senior ministers and officials, there is the possibility that the leaker is still part of the government.

These are dangerous times for journalists and whistle-blowers. None of the officials we knew would go on the record, and several were extremely reluctant to discuss their distrust of the incoming administration because of the air of distrust and paranoia that now apparently permeates Britain’s senior mandarins. After all, if they leaked the identities of the leakers to us, they would become leakers too!

So, in the dog days of this preternaturally hot summer, the feverish mood that descended on Parliament has now spread like a miasma across the institutions beyond that are supposed to protect us – Whitehall and Scotland Yard.

Will the storm break? Will a cleansing anti-cyclone come and blow these oppressive suspicions and rumours away and re-establish the primacy of public service in the interests of the nation rather than party, and the principle that no one is above the rule of law?

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