The morning after the vote by UK electors to leave the EU, Boris Johnson stood alongside his then friend, Michael Gove. The two men were seen as the public face of Vote Leave and they each gave a speech which in the case of Boris included this sentence “They have decided it is time to vote to take back control from a EU that has become too opaque and not accountable enough to the people it is meant to serve.” Yesterday he stood beside a new friend, John Kerry who is the United States Secretary of State (the equivalent of their Foreign Secretary) and the two men made statements regarding the work of the two nations. They were then both quizzed by journalists, mostly from the American State Department press Corp. The Sky news video makes it clear that Johnson was challenged by a number of the journalists present regarding his previous comments about a number of high profile politicians including the President of the USA and the current Republican candidate to replace him. “I’m afraid there is such a rich thesaurus now of things that I have said that have been—one way or another, through what alchemy I do not know—somehow misconstrued, that it would really take me too long to engage in a full, global itinerary of apology to all concerned.”
Defining accountability in terms of politics depends on ones point of view. I have had several discussions with people on social media about this and i recall one person arguing vociferously that democratic accountability was the sole action of going back to the electorate at the end of a term and asking them to vote for you for a second term. I accept that re-election can form part of an accountable strategy, but it is far from the whole picture. One business dictionary defines accountability as “The obligation of an individual or organization to account for its activities, accept responsibility for them, and to disclose the results in a transparent manner. It also includes the responsibility for money or other entrusted property.” It is my view that the statement by Boris yesterday does not come close to demonstrating accountability. He went on to suggest that all of the people who he had spoken to since his appointment had supported his point of view that he had nothing to apologise for. Some people will argue that Boris is not meant to be accountable to journalists and I have some sympathy with that. However I believe that all Government Ministers are meant to be accountable to the British citizens they are supposed to represent on the World stage. Whilst Boris may not feel that he can be expected to apologise to people who he will need to work with moving forward, that is something he must judge. However he does in my view owe us an apology for any sense that his previous comments, some of which go back about 30 days rather than 30 years have damaged our nation, irrespective of how confident he feels for his own reputation.