Blogs Coffee House

Boris Johnson is not fit to be leader of the Tory party, never mind Prime Minister

25 August 2014

Awkward, especially here, I know, but there you have it. But, look, if any other high-profile politician were suggesting the burden of proof in criminal trials should be switched from the accuser to the accused we’d be properly – in both senses – appalled.

So we should be appalled that Boris suggests in his Telegraph column today that anyone travelling to Iraq or Syria should be presumed a jihadist unless and until they can prove otherwise. The state will not have to make a case you convict you but you must make a case to avoid conviction.

And, lo, centuries of criminal law are undone. Worse still, I think, Boris considers this ‘a minor change’ to the law. What, one wonders, would constitute a major change? ‘It is hard’ Boris laments, ‘to press charges without evidence’. There should instead be ‘a “rebuttable presumption” that all those visiting war areas without notifying the authorities have done so for a terrorist purpose.’ 

So let’s  – effectively – introduce internment instead. What a ripping wheeze. What could possibly go wrong?


Mark this, too, a government that followed Boris’s advice is not a government that will ever have any fondness, far less any respect, for the rights of individuals. No corner of your life will be safe from governmental inspection. Sure, not everything leads to a slippery slope but only a dolt fails to recognise that slippery slopes do exist and that governments kinda enjoy playing on them.

Now you may say that it is unfair to judge Boris on the contents of his newspaper column. Everyone writes daft things from time to time; every hack has paragraphs (and sometimes entire columns) they’d like to take back. But it doesn’t matter what most of us think. Most of us have no ambition to become Prime Minister. Boris does and so, I am afraid, his columns – all of them – are fair game. They are a treat for Labour and trawling Boris’s journalism for daft notions he’ll be asked to back or disavow is hardly the toughest gig in politics.

Be that as it may, I am sure Boris’s proposals to incarcerate people in this fashion will be pretty popular. Illiberal proposals usually are.

Few people, I think, object to the idea of monitoring Britons who have travelled to Iraq or Syria for reasons that are, shall we say, mysterious. There is a danger and it is one that has to be confronted.

It can, however, be confronted without reversing the tide of English justice. The state does not lack resources, after all and while a desire to spend time in the charnel houses of Syria and Iraq might reasonably be thought eccentric and even suspicious the ancient principle of innocent until proven guilty is still, on the whole you know, a notion worth preserving.

Lord knows, we suffer enough from ill-conceived and hasty amendments to the law as it is without introducing fresh measures that must, in this instance, inevitably greatly increase the probability of wrongful incarceration.


More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • evad666

    Caption, ” I say chaps Cameron is a bit of a —- head!”

  • global city

    Boris is a fully paid up member of the folk who wish to still continue in the deception of the British public.

    a vote for Boris and/or the Tories will just see this deception continue, referendum or no referendum.

  • Thaddeus lovelock

    The, concept of a nation implies that we are in a sense, a family and we stick together and look out for each other. We may have disagreements but we try to sort them, out ,in a civil way. A nation implies social bonds, and bonds of reciprocity that’s what makes nations work. The Islamic identity in its militant form, does not buy into those concepts, as much. One is a Muslim first and foremost.

    • Thaddeus lovelock

      That’s why the stream of terrorists originating in the west feels like a terrible betrayal. We wanted to believe that they were one of us, that they subscribed to the same sense of belonging to the nation. But their actions are actually a rejection of those social bonds. They are actually saying in a definitive way, we don’t belong to your group, and further more, we are actually opposed to you.

  • FrankS2

    AS astonishing as some of the rubbish BoJo scribbles is the amount he gets paid for scribbling it – any half decent hack could do a better job of it, and would count themself well paid at a 10th the price. He’s getting paid to promote Btand Boris!

  • Kenneth O’Keeffe

    Oh, relax. Boris is merely suggesting that the fact that someone travels to a warzone AND without NOTIFYING the authorities in advance is liable to prosecution. This could be deemed to be a proportionate response to a crisis-situation (civil rights are frequently curtailed in times of war). It is hardly, as the writer suggests, a subversion of the ages-old principle of the presumption of innocence.

  • Mynydd

    The beauty of our unwritten constitution is its flexibility, thus it can change as the world about us change. Unfortunately the government seem unable to use this to combat the

  • Iain Hill

    Let’s get real. This would apply only to Muslims. How racist can you get!

  • No1important

    Well that’s your opinion Alex whoever you are but I beg to differ. Of course you bleeding heart liberals won’t take of your rose tinted spectacles until the Islamists are beheading your family members in front of your very eyes in the streets of the UK, bloody blind fools the lot of you.

  • Sean L

    Oh yeah and what about all those old men who were presumed guilty by the police and media of decades old alleged ‘crimes’ on more evidence than the say so their accusers. I didn’t hear you sticking up for them, you weasel. But what’s the diff in principle? None at all. Merely a matter of fashion. Defending old white men accused of sexual crimes just isn’t a fashionable cause. Whereas young non-white men who are potential enemies of the state. . . well, you’ve chosen your cause. . .

  • mariandavid

    I think that Boris meant ‘those with dual citizenship’ (the caveat being removed by an editor who worshiped simplicity). It is certainly legal to remove citizenship that was granted rather than being acquired. Here in Canada there are similar suggestions, plausible since Canada, like Britain, allows dual or even multiple citizenships.

  • Fergus Pickering

    You man she aborted the baby. She did.He didn’t. Curious use of the word coward. What would you have done?

    • Baron

      What are you on about, Fergus?

      • Fergus Pickering

        Sory, Baron. This is not addressed to you but some fellow who thinks Boris eats babies.

  • Gaz Hat

    “The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed.”
    Boris Johnson, 2014

  • edithgrove

    DC should stay in Cornwall now, its clear he’s not really interested in leading. Let Boris or David Davis have a go.

  • Mitzi

    Perhaps those from the UK who travel to Syria and Iraq are going on holiday? Perhaps we have these people wrongly accused of being Jihadists when all they are doing is going for a few weeks rest.

  • Terry Field

    The State must not make presumptions of guilt – the neurosis arises from the collapse of our policy in the Middle East.
    The sense of panic will be directed to a review of the danger of Islam in our own society. That exercise is much more dangerous. Much less predictable than the mind of Boris.

  • Hugh1

    Being in Syria and Iraq at this time makes you guilty. Can we stop talking of British values as though they cannot be suspended for certain people during a crisis? They’ve been tossed aside many times before to defeat an enemy. Its only when victory comes that they can be re-established. Boris Johnson should not be PM for many other reasons

    • Terry Field

      ‘Being in Syria and Iraq at this time makes you guilty’.

      ‘Being a Jew in the Reich is an act of guilt’

      • Hugh1

        The Jews weren’t beheading people during the third Reich. British history is a far more pleasing read.

    • Baron

      What if someone went not to behead, but to care for those who were hurt by those who behead?

      Has a wholesale criminalisation ever delivered justice anywhere?

  • Baron

    Spot on, Alex, it must never happen, ‘semper necessitas probandi incumbit ei qui agit’ it has been, and ‘proof lies on him who asserts, not him who denies’ it should remain.

    Boris proves once again he isn’t fit to lead, either a party or, God forbid, the country.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here