DOMINIC LAWSON: The Prime Minister has a lot more integrity than his seatbelt critic Chris Bryant

When you learned that Rishi Sunak had been caught not wearing a seatbelt in the back seat of the Prime Minister’s limousine, did you think it showed that he had failed to keep his promise to bring ‘honesty and integrity’ to the government? Does somebody have?

So did Chris Bryant, the Labor chairman of the Commons Committee on Standards. Bryant made exactly that allegation of lack of integrity, saying the Prime Minister had been ‘fined again for breaking the law’ – Sunak had previously been penalized for a technical breach of Covid social distancing rules, at Downing Street while Chancellor – and should no longer be in office.

Bryant appears to be a stern moralist, at least as far as conservatives are concerned. He has a preacher’s tone in his accusations, which is not surprising: Bryant was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1987. He left the church four years later, finding it impossible to reconcile his vocation with being gay, but remains an active member of the established church.

DOMINIC LAWSON: When you heard that Rishi Sunak had been caught not wearing a seatbelt in the back seat of the Prime Minister’s limousine, did you think it showed that he had failed to keep his promise to bring ‘honesty and integrity’? to the government?

Shrug your shoulders

Which leads me to suggest: let him who has always worn his seatbelt in the back of his car throw the first stone. This is not to attribute hypocrisy to Bryant. I’m sure he would never fail to commit.

But it wasn’t long (even the same day Lancashire Police fined the Prime Minister £100) before social media produced photos of Keir Starmer, Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband, the last three Labor leaders, standing in the back of what looked like moving taxis, without their seatbelts.

And in 2007 – 16 years after the law was passed requiring passengers in the back seat of a car to wear their seatbelts – then Prime Minister Tony Blair was interviewed for The Guardian while on the road in his chauffeured Land Rover. His interviewer wrote: ‘Now I notice that the Prime Minister is not wearing a seatbelt. When I tenderly point this out to him, he shrugs unabashedly.’

So not only did Tony Blair take this country into a war in the Middle East on what turned out to be false pretenses, he didn’t wear his seatbelt as a passenger – well, who knows on how many occasions? I don’t recall Bryant stinking when The Guardian revealed Blair’s indifferent attitude to The Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts in Rear Seats by Adults) Regulations 1991.

Yet he does not make up this charge against Sunak. It is true, no matter how trivial. But Bryant has a record of making false accusations against political opponents.

Chris Bryant, the Labor chair of the Commons Committee on Standards, said the Prime Minister has been fined again for breaking the law and should no longer be in office

Chris Bryant, the Labor chair of the Commons Committee on Standards, said the Prime Minister has been fined again for breaking the law and should no longer be in office

Chris Bryant, the Labor chair of the Commons Committee on Standards, said the prime minister has been ‘fined again for breaking the law’ and should no longer be in office

In 2018, under parliamentary privilege, he alleged that a New Zealand billionaire, Christopher Chandler, was a “money launderer.” This would be a serious crime. But it was completely untrue and there was no evidence Bryant could produce to back up the claim.

Chandler, a philanthropist who has funded campaigns in more than 100 countries to fight human trafficking and get refugee children into schools, finally (after four years) got Bryant to admit that his accusation had been “debunked,” and let the MP pay £1,000 to charity as a reward.

What motivated Bryant? Well, he was a passionate opponent of Brexit, one of those determined to thwart it in parliament, despite the referendum result; and Chandler had founded a British think tank, the Legatum Institute, which was pro-Brexit.

Chandler argued that Bryant (not alone) had tried “to make me the emblem of Brexit, and then to discredit me, like all others whom they regard as enemies, in their quest to make the decision of the British public to roll back’.

More recently, Bryant insisted he witnessed a Tory MP, Alexander Stafford, being “physically assaulted” by party whips during a highly controversial “fracking” vote. This was quite an allegation, and not surprisingly, Speaker of the House Lindsay Hoyle ordered an investigation. It turned out not to be true.

Sir Lindsay told MPs: ‘There is no evidence of bullying … while some thought physical contact was used to force a Member into the lobby, the Member in question said very clearly that this was not happening. Those who were most clear about the incident confirmed this.”

But as in his false accusations against that Kiwi philanthropist, Bryant refused to apologize even when it turned out he was wrong. I have no doubt about Bryant’s belief in the charges he made (however unfounded), as he will certainly be aware of the Ninth Commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

Pork

In any case, this is the man whose job it is to promote the highest standards of conduct within Parliament. Interviewed in 2021 about his role as chairman of the Standards Committee, Bryant said, “I hate the idea that people get that all MPs are on the hunt or have their snouts in the trough.”

Perhaps they would have been less likely to come up with such an idea had not many MPs been exposed for pig behavior during their parliamentary charges.

For example: a certain Chris Bryant, who was revealed in a 2015 Channel 4 investigation to have claimed over £35,000 in expenses in 2012-2014 to pay the rent for a place to rest his weary head in London … despite owning a two-bedroom penthouse in the capital, which he rented out for £3,000 a month.

Another Commons veteran who knows Bryant well—and sees him as far more capable than many colleagues who have risen to high office—told me, “He should be kicking himself for not staying in church. He could very well have gone to Canterbury. Instead he’s just riddled with acid, the Cardinal of Cant, the Archbishop of Rancour-bury.’

I would say that Rishi Sunak has more integrity than this most sanctimonious critic.

Bupa insurance? It’s enough to make you sick

My friend Lu received a very beautiful bouquet of flowers last week. Attached was a card that read, “We are so sorry to hear of your loss and the passing of Mr. James Guthrie. Our sincere condolences to you and your family at this difficult time. From all of them at Bupa.’

James was the husband of Lu and Bupa the health insurance company he had been paying premiums to for over 20 years.

In 2017, James was diagnosed with colon cancer. On Boxing Day, he died of the condition, aged 72. So you might think: how thoughtful of Bupa to send flowers to his widow.

Still, Lu’s response was more of a hollow laugh. For Bupa had treated her husband – a KC and one of the country’s leading legal figures – horribly.

After he was diagnosed with cancer, the premiums they charged skyrocketed from around £7,000 a year to almost £42,000 in 2020, almost £82,000 in 2021, and last year Bupa said no less than £163,339.20 would be needed are. Nice side effect, that 20 p at the end.

James Guthrie, pictured, was a KC and one of the nation's leading legal figures.  In 2017, James was diagnosed with colon cancer.  On Boxing Day, he died of the condition, aged 72

James Guthrie, pictured, was a KC and one of the nation's leading legal figures.  In 2017, James was diagnosed with colon cancer.  On Boxing Day, he died of the condition, aged 72

James Guthrie, pictured, was a KC and one of the nation’s leading legal figures. In 2017, James was diagnosed with colon cancer. On Boxing Day, he died of the condition, aged 72

As James told the Sunday Times last October: ‘This seems to miss the point of insurance. It seems outrageous to me that Bupa can make money off people who are very well off, but if they are unlucky enough to get sick, they either want to get rid of them or charge a premium that they can’t possibly afford so they don’t have to take responsibility .’

Following this scathing interview, the insurance regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, investigated the matter and I understand that Bupa agreed to significantly reduce James’s premium.

However, by then he was near death and would no longer be able to cost the company money or contribute to their profits (£423m last year).

No wonder when Lu showed me Bupa’s condolence card, she sardonically described the flowers as “the icing on the cake.”

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