What was P&O boss Peter Hebblethwaite thinking? You can’t go to parliament and tell the truth

He came to the houses of parliament. He sat down his chair. He opened his mouth and he told the truth – and that’s why he’s got to go.

There are more than a few reasons kicking around at the minute to question the judgment of Peter Hebblethwaite, the somewhat unpopular boss of P&O Ferries, but surely none more than this.

Does he not watch the news? Have you ever picked up a newspaper? It’s 2022, matte. If you want to tell the truth, go to Confession, not the commons.

The consequences for Mr Hebblethwaite, of telling a parliamentary select committee that he deliberately broke the law, concealed it, and would do it again, are so obvious he must surely have seen them coming.

Boris Johnson has called for him to go – and quite right, too. The British way is to do things by convention, not by hard and fast rule, and Hebblethwaite should have known that since roughly December 2021, anyone found knowingly not lying to parliament will be expected to resign. Hebblethwaite had it coming.

His crime, in the words of transport secretary Grant Shapps, and supported by the prime minister, was the “brazen” way in which he admitted to having broken the law. This won’t do.

He admitted he didn’t consult with the unions before making his entire UK crew redundant with 30 minutes notice, as he was legally obliged to do, as if he had done they wouldn’t have allowed it.

This, as Shapps correctly points out, is an act of brazen honesty – and this kind of despicable behavior simply will not do.

What he should have done, when asked why he broke the law, is said the following:

I didn’t sack all my staff.

All my staff may have been sacked but not by me.

Alright I did sack them but I didn’t know they were my staff.”

You know, not brazen honesty, but good old fashioned brazen sayhonestly. You can’t just tell the truth. You’ve got to lie about it, and the more ridiculous the better.

Of course, it is not altogether easy to feel sorry for intentional law breaker Peter Hebblethwaite but the timing is unfortunate. If he’d illegally sacked all his staff from him say back in 2020, it would have been completely fine. Breaking the law in a specific and limited way was all the rage back then.

But to come to the parliament and tell the truth, at the precise moment the prime minister’s survival is dependent on paying private lawyers to come up with insane fantasies about the dual nature of 10 Downing Street as his home and workplace, so as to normalize his having lied at the dispatch box of the House of Commons almost continually for three entire months – well that’s just very bad timing.

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So why hasn’t Hebblethwaite resigned yet? Well, actually, it turns out all is not lost. It might just be that, back in 2018, Chris Grayling, in his infinite wisdom, may have tweaked the relevant laws to mean that, actually, as the P&O Ferries in question were registered abroad, our beleaguered hero may, technically, not actually have had to give the government advance notice he was going to sack everyone.

If that’s true then, it’s distinctly possible that Hebblethwaite was lying all along. Well, not lying. But, just saying things, quite possibly by accident, that turned out not to be true. Alright, it’s not the kind of massive, 100 per cent, totally and utterly blatant lie that the prime minister specializes in.

But even if he thought he was telling the truth, he could say that he was lying. And if no one believes him, then that’s a double lie. And that, at this moment of impossible peril, might just be enough to save him.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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