Boris Johnson’s two years as PM: A casual relationship with the truth and a disdain for the rules
Throughout his life and political career, Boris Johnson has believed the rules don’t apply to him. And as he marks his second anniversary as prime minister this weekend, it seems nothing’s changed.
It was a claim first made by one of his masters at Eton. And the view was reinforced as recently as last Sunday when he tried to dodge self-isolating after coming into contact with COVID-positive Sajid Javid.
Forced into a humiliating U-turn, Mr Johnson is spending his second anniversary as PM isolating at Chequers. So no chums, political cronies or family members to celebrate with him. Or so we’re told.
But, hey, there are worse places to self-isolate than the PM’s 16th century grace and favour mansion house in the Chilterns, a 1,500-acre hideaway with a tennis court and swimming pool.
Plenty of time for the PM to reflect on a tumultuous two years even by the standards of his rollercoaster life: a second divorce, a third marriage, another child and – of course – narrowly escaping death from COVID.
As well as all that, he’s imposed three national lockdowns – so far – in England, held 57 coronavirus news conferences in Downing Street and introduced countless draconian rules and restrictions that have put him on collision course with Tory MPs and triggered several big backbench rebellions.
That’s after a Brexit war of attrition in his first year in which he shut down parliament illegally, kicked out 21 rebel Conservative MPs, won the Tories’ biggest election victory since Margaret Thatcher in 1987 and fulfilled his pledge to “get Brexit done”.
It’s been two years in which he has hired – and fired – Dominic Cummings, broken a Tory manifesto pledge on overseas aid and been accused of breaking an international treaty on trade and ripping up his own Brexit deal on the Northern Ireland protocol.
After his brush with death, he’s become a fitness obsessive, declaring in a speech last year “My friends, I was too fat” and embarking on a punishing exercise regime involving early morning runs through London parks with his Jack Russell cross Dilyn.
He even – temporarily, perhaps – became a football fan during the Euros, wearing his England jersey over his shirt and tie at Wembley in a display that was denounced as a crime against fashion.
Is it really only two years ago that Mr Johnson entered 10 Downing Street on 24 July 2019 and vowed to prove the “doubters, doomsters and gloomsters” wrong over Brexit? Oh, and he also promised to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all”.
Two years on, we’re still waiting on social care, with the PM squabbling with his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, about how it should be paid for and a blueprint promised earlier this week now postponed until the autumn.
With no Commons majority to speak of in the summer of 2019, Mr Johnson dragged the Queen into the Brexit row by proroguing parliament, a move later ruled unlawful by the Supreme Court.
He then suspended 21 pro-European Tory MPs, including two former Chancellors of the Exchequer – Ken Clarke and Philip Hammond – and his hero Winston Churchill’s grandson, Sir Nicholas Soames.
But after Labour dropped its opposition to a general election, he called a poll for 12 December. And after a typically flamboyant Johnson campaign involving a bulldozer and a pledge of an “oven-ready” deal on Brexit, he won an 80-seat majority.
Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was crushed as the Conservatives won seats in a so-called “Red Wall” in the north of England and the midlands that had been held by Labour for generations. British politics had been turned upside down.
On 31 January 2020, the UK finally left the European Union. But even now the battles between London and Brussels over the small print of the deal are still raging, with the Northern Ireland protocol disagreement no closer to being resolved.
In February last year it was all change for the PM: Sajid Javid quit as chancellor after Mr Cummings told him to sack his advisers, Mr Johnson was divorced from his long-suffering wife Marina Wheeler and 11 days later he announced that he and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds were engaged and expecting a baby.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, nearly everything, as it turned out.
In March COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, Mr Johnson was forced to announce the first lockdown in England, in a grim TV address to the nation, and then he tested positive.
But the drama was only just beginning. The day after Sir Keir Starmer was elected Labour leader, the PM was admitted to hospital for a week, including three nights in intensive care. Two weeks after he left hospital, Carrie gave birth to a son, Wilfred.
Lockdown measures were eased in May, but the PM’s whole COVID strategy was undermined by Mr Cummings making a lockdown-busting trip to Durham, including a drive to nearby Barnard Castle, he claimed, to test his eyesight.
Although it was the beginning of the end for the maverick Mr Cummings, the PM should have fired him there and then. Instead, the soap opera reached a climax – or nadir – with an excruciating news conference by Mr Cummings in the Downing Street garden.
It was November, after a second lockdown in England, before Mr Cummings left Number 10, carrying a cardboard box containing his belongings. Also ousted was the PM’s spin doctor, Lee Cain, in what the pair claim to this day was a coup masterminded by the PM’s fiancée.
Meanwhile, the PM was earning a reputation for COVID U-turns by easing lockdown measures in England in December, only to cancel Christmas, bring in tough new rules and then a third national lockdown – including shutting schools – in early January as the UK death toll topped 100,000. There has been criticism, too, of COVID contracts being awarded to Tory cronies.
But then came the vaccine breakthrough: the best news for the PM throughout the whole coronavirus crisis. Even his harshest critics wouldn’t begrudge him the success of the government’s rolling out of the vaccination programme.
The Tories also enjoyed what looked like a vaccine bounce in the opinion polls, although a new poll on the day of the PM’s second anniversary, in the i newspaper, suggests his vaccine bounce may now be ending, with his approval rating slipping into negative territory after a jab high three months ago and a majority now believing he is “dishonest, inconsistent and disorganised”.
And he has used this success to his considerable political advantage. “We vaccinate, he vacillates,” Mr Johnson has taunted Sir Keir several times during Prime Minister’s Questions this year. And the Tories have enjoyed what looks like a vaccine bounce in the opinion polls.
But as well as criticism for coronavirus U-turns, the PM has also come under fire over his financial arrangements and who is paying for his luxury lifestyle: a holiday in the millionaires’ playground of Mustique at Christmas/New Year 2019-20 and a costly makeover for the Downing Street flat, above Number 11, where he, Carrie, Wilfred and the dog live.
On the Mustique holiday, he was criticised by the Standards Committee for failing to ascertain who paid for it. And on the flat, his own ethics adviser, Lord Geidt, found that he acted unwisely over its funding.
More criticism of the PM came last month when the Health Secretary Matt Hancock was exposed by a video of what the Sun called a “steamy clinch” with his close aide, Gina Colandangelo, in his Whitehall office.
The matter was closed, the prime minister declared. Oh no it wasn’t! Barely 24 hours later, Mr Hancock was out, replaced by Mr Javid. Bad judgement by Mr Johnson once again, his critics said.
And last Sunday’s abrupt U-turn on self-isolating? Everything we know about the PM and the chancellor suggests it was prompted by Mr Sunak insisting that dodging the rules was wrong and he wanted no part of it.
There’s a common theme here – a casual relationship with the truth and a disdain for the rules – throughout Boris Johnson’s two years as prime minister, although it began much earlier.
Remember, as well of the recollection by his old Eton schoolmaster, he was sacked from The Times for making up a quote and from the Tory front bench by Michael Howard for lying about an affair.
When it was revealed he had a late-night row with Carrie Symonds at her flat two years ago, photos of his battered old car revealed unpaid parking tickets piled up against the windscreen.
And there’s a story of him being chased off a tennis court in a London park by an attendant because he hadn’t paid his £10 fee.
Trivial anecdotes, certainly, but revealing about the PM’s character, critics claim.
So far, however, despite Sir Keir claiming this week the “road will run out” for the PM because the public believe in “integrity, honesty and accountability” and the left-wing Labour MP Dawn Butler being thrown out of the Commons for accusing him of lying, voters don’t seem to care.
To his supporters, he’s their hero who won the Brexit referendum, who won the Tories their biggest Commons majority since the glory days of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and who succeeded where Theresa May failed and got Brexit done, as he promised.
Two years from now, with the Fixed Term Parliaments Act repealed, Mr Johnson could be leading the Conservatives into another general election campaign. And if the voters are still forgiving or simply don’t care about all the criticisms about his dodgy boasts and ignoring the rules, he could prove his critics wrong once again.
Binance.US scores against SEC, Mt. Gox delay repayments, and other news: Hodler’s Digest, Sept. 17-23
Top Stories This Week
SEC sees temporary setback in request to access Binance.US software
The United States Securities and Exchange Commission has failed to win immediate access to Binance.US’s software, with the judge saying he isn’t “inclined to allow the inspection at this time.” The hearing was held on Sept. 18 to discuss the SEC’s motion to compel Binance to hand over detailed information and make its executives more available for depositions. In a hearing, Judge Faruqui said that he wasn’t “inclined to allow the inspection at this time.” Alternatively, he proposed that the SEC should come up with more specific requests for discovery and speak with a broader range of witnesses. In another headline, Binance global and its CEO Changpeng “CZ” Zhao requested dismissal of the SEC’s lawsuit filed against them in June, claiming the regulator overstepped its authority in the case.
Mt. Gox trustee changes repayment deadline to October 2024
Mt. Gox trustee Nobuaki Kobayashi has officially changed the deadline for paying back the exchange’s creditors from Oct. 31, 2023, to Oct. 31, 2024. Presently, the Mt. Gox estate holds some 142,000 Bitcoin (BTC), 143,000 Bitcoin Cash (BCH), and 69 billion Japanese yen. Mt. Gox was one of the earliest cryptocurrency exchanges, once facilitating more than 70% of all trades made within the blockchain ecosystem. Following a major hack in 2011, the site subsequently collapsed in 2014 due to alleged insolvency; the fallout affected about 24,000 creditors and resulted in the loss of 850,000 BTC.
Tether authorizes $1B USDT to ‘replenish’ Tron network
Tether’s Treasury is set to provide a $1 billion near-term liquidity for the Tron network. The billionaire authorization was flagged by blockchain tracker WhaleAlert, which drew a quick-fire response from Tether chief technology officer Paolo Ardoino, who said that the USDT tokens would be used as inventory to “replenish” the Tron network. Authorizing USDT in the Tether Treasury allows the company to issue USDT instantaneously once customer funds are received to ensure that the issuer maintains 100% of its reserves. Ardoino added that the event was an authorization and not an actual issuance, with the allocated amount set to serve as inventory for upcoming issuance requests and chain swaps from the Tron network.
FTX founder’s parents sued, accused of stealing millions from crypto exchange
Debtors of FTX have launched legal action against the parents Sam “SBF” Bankman-Fried, alleging that they misappropriated millions of dollars through their involvement in the crypto exchange. The plaintiffs argued that Joseph Bankman and Barbara Fried exploited their access and influence within the FTX empire to enrich themselves at the expense of the debtors in the FTX bankruptcy estate. The debtors alleged that SBF’s parents were “very much involved” in the FTX business from inception to collapse, contrary to what SBF has claimed. According to the complaint, Bankman and Fried extracted significant unearned rewards from their involvement in FTX Group, including a $10-million cash gift and a $16.4-million luxury property in the Bahamas.
Grayscale files for new Ether futures ETF — Official
Digital currency investment company Grayscale is the latest firm to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a new Ether (ETH) futures exchange-traded fund (ETF).
Grayscale Ethereum Futures Trust will hold Ether futures contracts with a “roughly constant expiration profile,” according to the filing. The trust will “never carry futures positions to cash settlement.” The nature of the Ether futures contracts in the ETF will not require the trust to use an Ether custodian. Grayscale’s application comes a few weeks after Valkyrie also filed for an Ether futures ETF with the SEC in mid-August, following several other firms filing for ETH futures ETFs.
Winners and Losers
Among the biggest 100 cryptocurrencies, the top three altcoin gainers of the week are Immutable (IMX) at 27.07%, Curve DAO Token (CRV) at 16.16%, and Aave (AAVE) at 15.92%.
The top three altcoin losers of the week are Gala (GALA) at -8.57%, Axie Infinity (AXS) at -7.42%, and Optimism (OP) at -7.52%.
For more info on crypto prices, make sure to read Cointelegraph’s market analysis.
Most Memorable Quotations
“There remains a real risk that the use of AI develops in a way that undermines consumer trust or is dominated by a few players […].”
Sarah Cardell, CEO of the U.K. Competition and Markets Authority
“Don’t give up on the United States. This too shall pass, the confusion shall pass. The United States is a good place to build things, and I want it to stay that way.
Hester Peirce, Commissioner of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
“If the average end-user, who isn’t a computer scientist, who doesn’t understand blockchain, has to know about their private keys — we’ve got it wrong. They have to be abstracted away,”
James Tromans, head of Web3 at Google Cloud
“Bitcoin as a global monetary network is scaling while its carbon impact declines. Few industries can claim this achievement.”
Jamie Coutts, crypto market analyst at Bloomberg
“It is an inevitable future where there will no longer be any intermediaries between fans and creators — this is an obvious but unrealized potential of blockchain technology.”
Leon Lee, founder and CEO of Only1
“[The U.S. government] can do a central bank digital currency if it’s open, permissionless and private. It has to emulate cash.”
Tom Emmer, U.S. Representative
Prediction of the Week
Bitcoin fails to recoup post-Fed losses as $20K BTC price returns to radar
Bitcoin circled lower after the United States Federal Reserve decision on interest rates, with $20,000 BTC price predictions resurfacing.
The aftermath of the Fed interest rates pause on Sept. 20 offered little for Bitcoin bulls, BTC/USD having dipped almost $700 the day prior. Data from Cointelegraph Markets Pro and TradingView covered a lackluster 24 hours for BTC price action, with $27,000 fading from view.
Now, market participants returned to a more conservative outlook in the absence of tangible volatility. “Something like this over the course of October would be perfect i would say,” popular trader Crypto Tony told X (formerly Twitter) subscribers.
“Slow grind up to $28,500, followed by hype and FOMO, to then dump it once more.”
FUD of the Week
Balancer blames ‘social engineering attack’ on DNS provider for website hijack
Ethereum-based automated market maker Balancer believes a social engineering attack on its DNS service provider was what led to its website’s front end being compromised on Sept. 19, leading to an estimated $238,000 in crypto stolen. Blockchain security firms SlowMist and CertiK reported that the attacker employed Angel Drainer phishing contracts. SlowMist said the exploiters attacked Balancer’s website via Border Gateway Protocol hijacking — a process where hackers take control of IP addresses by corrupting internet routing tables. The hacker has already bridged some of the stolen Ether (ETH) to Bitcoin (BTC) addresses.
Crypto influencer arrested in Hong Kong for JPEX association
A Hong Kong-based social media influencer has reportedly been arrested after investigations around the liquidity crisis of the crypto exchange JPEX traced back their involvement. According to a local report, the Securities and Futures Commission of Hong Kong recently issued a statement blaming JPEX for actively promoting the platform’s services and products to the public through online celebrities and over-the-counter money changers. Another unconfirmed report suggests that Lin Zuo presented “schemes” to a chat group created for cryptocurrency investment. Also related to this story, Hong Kong regulators are looking to tighten regulations around the crypto market following the failure of JPEX, which led to the arrest of over six individuals.
CoinEx hack: Compromised private keys led to $70M theft
Hong Kong-based cryptocurrency exchange CoinEx has revealed that compromised private keys allowed hackers to steal over $70 million worth of tokens. According to CoinEx representatives, the amount represents a small percentage of its total assets under management. CoinEx stated that affected users will be compensated entirely for any lost funds. The exchange explained that a preliminary investigation pinned the root cause to a compromised private key for its hot wallets. These were used to store exchange assets for carrying out deposits and withdrawals.
If you’re not transforming your business to take advantage of AI now, you’ll be left behind, says Easy Translate boss Frederik Pedersen.
NFT Collector: William Mapan explains generative art using a crayon and dice
What even is generative art? William Mapan, whose 250-piece Distance collection just sold out at 2ETH each, explains using a crayon and die.
Hong Kong crypto exchange JPEX busted in $166M scam, Mt. Gox delays repayments yet again, oldest credit card company in Singapore moves into blockchain.
The most engaging reads in blockchain. Delivered once a
Rishi Sunak scraps government taskforce aimed at saving energy and lowering bills
A government taskforce intended to help people save energy and lower their bills has been disbanded after just six months.
The Energy Efficiency Taskforce was set up by the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, in March to boost uptake of insulation and boiler upgrades in homes and commercial buildings.
It included Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, along with bosses of banks, housing developers and behavioural experts – aiming to drive a 15 per cent reduction in energy usage by 2030.
The group had four meetings but were yet to make any formal recommendations. Energy efficiency minister Lord Callanan wrote to them yesterday to say their work would be incorporated into the work of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.
Jess Ralston, an energy analyst at non-profit group the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, told Sky News: “This appears to be yet another u-turn that could lead to higher bills just like the prime minister’s decision last week to roll back landlord insulation standards that could leave renters paying an additional £8bn on energy bills.”
One figure familiar with the taskforce discussions blamed the Treasury for not being willing to consider radical measures to incentivise families and businesses to take up the measures. One idea suggested was stamp duty reform.
The person said: “The Treasury spent £40bn last winter on energy support payments but wouldn’t spend £1-2bn on energy efficiency incentives which would save people money on their bills. It’s short-sighted”.
A Treasury source rejected this, and said: “Our commitment to energy efficiency has not changed one iota”
They added the decision to close the taskforce had been taken by the Department for Energy and Net Zero, created in February this year.
The taskforce was chaired by Lord Callanan and the former NatWest Group chief executive Alison Rose who resigned from the bank in July in a row over the closure of Nigel Farage’s account. It was intended to stimulate private sector investment and identify barriers in the market.
PM overhauls climate policies
A spokesperson for the department confirmed the taskforce was being disbanded and said: “We would like to thank the Energy Efficiency Taskforce for its work in supporting our ambition to reduce total UK energy demand by 15% from 2021 levels by 2030.
“We have invested £6.6bn in energy efficiency upgrades this Parliament and will continue to support families in making their homes more efficient, helping them to cut bills while also achieving net zero in a pragmatic, proportionate and realistic way.”
It comes after the prime minister made a speech this week rowing back on parts of the green agenda pursued by his predecessors – with targets relaxed for phasing out petrol and diesel cars, upgrading boilers and for landlords to make their properties energy efficient.
The oldest housing stock in Europe
Insulating homes is key to meeting the UK’s net zero target in 2050 – which remains in place. The UK has the oldest housing stock in Europe with millions of draughty, poorly insulated homes.
It had been estimated six million homes would need to be insulated by 2030 to reach the government’s target of reducing energy usage by 15%.
Ed Miliband, Labour’s Shadow Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, criticised the move.
“Every family is paying the price in higher energy bills due to 13 years of Tory failure on insulating homes.” he said.
“After Rishi Sunak’s track record as chancellor with the disastrous Green Homes Grant, this is another short-sighted decision that will cost families money.”
Energy efficiency in England’s homes has increased since 2010, when just 14% were in the highest efficiency bands A to C. By 2020, it was 46%, according to the English Housing Survey. For homes that were improved to a Band C level, the annual energy saving was £282 per year.
Coinbase CEO warns against AI regulation, calls for decentralization
Brian Armstrong, the CEO of crypto exchange Coinbase, expressed his stance on artificial intelligence (AI) regulation in a recent post on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter).
On Sept. 23, Armstrong explained that he believes that AI should not be regulated. According to the Coinbase CEO, the AI space needs to develop as soon as possible because of reasons such as national security. In addition, Armstrong also noted that despite the best intentions of regulators, regulation “has unintended consequences,” arguing that it kills innovation and competition.
Count me as someone who believes AI should not be regulated
We need to make progress on it as fast as possible for many reasons (including national security). And the track record on regulation is that it has unintended consequences and kills competition/innovation, despite best…
— Brian Armstrong ️ (@brian_armstrong) September 22, 2023
The Coinbase executive cited the internet as an example. Armstrong believes there was a “golden age of innovation” on the internet and software because it was not regulated. The Coinbase CEO suggested the same should be applied to AI technology.
Furthermore, Armstrong also presented an alternative to regulation in terms of protecting the AI space. According to the executive, it would be better to “decentralize it and open source it to let the cat out of the bag.”
Meanwhile, various jurisdictions across the globe have either started to regulate AI or express concerns about its potential effects. On Aug. 15, China’s provisional guidelines for AI activity and management came into effect. The regulations were published on July 10 and were a joint effort between six of the country’s government agencies. This is the first set of AI rules implemented within the country amid the recent AI boom.
In the United Kingdom, the competition regulator studied AI in order to identify its potential impact on competition and consumers. On Sept. 18, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority concluded that while AI has the potential to change people’s work and lives, the changes may happen too fast and could have a significant impact on competition.
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