Boris Johnson’s political future hangs in the balance.
Boris Johnson’s political future hangs in the balance. The former British prime minister was questioned for three hours on Wednesday by MPs investigating whether he misled Parliament. The probe could lead to a by-election for Johnson’s seat, likely spelling the end of his career.
- Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2019-2022, was questioned by MPs for three hours on Wednesday about whether he intentionally misled Parliament over Partygate. The investigation into Johnson’s habit of holding BYOB work parties during the height of his government’s strict lockdowns helped lead to his resignation in July 2022.
- “Hand on heart, I did not lie to the House,” Johnson said during the hearing’s opening. The former PM claimed the boozy get-togethers were “essential” work events and that his government followed their own lockdown guidelines. Johnson’s assertions “did not amount to much at all” and were dismissed as “flimsy” by Labour’s Harriet Harman, the chair of the inquiry.
- Johnson was questioned by Conservative and Labour MPs alike about emails showing he was concerned about the “optics” of a May 2020 gathering, his claims that the June 2020 birthday get-together “slipped my mind” and whether he would’ve encouraged the British public to have going-away parties at the height of his first lockdown.
- Johnson claimed the lack of evidence and the lack of a police investigation should be proof that he did not intentionally or recklessly mislead Parliament about the BYOB parties.
- Parliament is not investigating whether the parties followed Johnson’s draconian Covid rules. Instead, the question at hand is whether Johnson should have known the parties were a violations of Johnson’s own rules and whether he misled the House of Commons about it.
- The intense grilling was not the only humiliation Johnson suffered on Wednesday. Johnson came out against the UK-EU Windsor Framework and the so-called Stormont Brake, a new mechanism in the framework designed to relieve tensions in post-Brexit Northern Ireland.
- The Windsor Framework was negotiated by Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The Framework breezed through Parliament by a 515 to 29 margin, marginalizing Johnson and ex-PM Liz Truss, who were two of the 22 Conservatives who rebelled against the deal.
- Sunak himself took advantage of the return of the Boris Johnson dog-and-pony show to release his personal tax returns, which showed he paid $1.22 million in taxes last year. Sunak is likely the wealthiest person to have ever served as British Prime Minister.
- The Privileges Committee is set to formally meet again next week as the members compile evidence and prepare to write their report. Once the report is finished, it will be made public two weeks after Johnson has read and replied to it. The process should wrap up by the spring or early summer when Parliament will vote on what disciplinary measures to impose.
- If MPs find that he “deliberately or recklessly misled Parliament,” Johnson could be suspended from the House of Commons. A suspension of ten days or longer could trigger a by-election, or special election, in his competitive London-area constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip that could see Johnson removed from his seat and end his career.
- The Guardian reported Johnson appears likely to face a formal reprimand once the committee reports back later in the spring. It is still possible, however, that the committee recommends a sanction short of the threshold needed to trigger a by-election.
- CNN noted the “high stakes” hearing could spell the end for Johnson just months after he nearly launched a comeback bid against Sunak after the implosion of his successor of 44 days, Liz Truss. Johnson’s “combative” demeanor did not shield him from intense questioning.
- The New York Times observed, “Lying to Parliament is a significant transgression and carries the possibility of suspension or worse. If the committee proposes a suspension of 10 days or more — and lawmakers approved it — there could be a vote in Mr. Johnson’s constituency, Uxbridge, on whether to keep him as a representative. Losing such a vote, and his seat in Parliament, would end Mr. Johnson’s prospects of a political comeback any time soon.”
- The Spectator had five takeaways from Johnson’s testimony. Johnson appeared to back away from some of his allies’ comments that the hearing would be a “kangaroo court” and MPs of both parties seemed skeptical of the ex-PM’s assurances that he had followed the rules.
- GB News reported much of the hearing focused on photos of Johnson at the various Downing Street get-togethers. Sir Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative MP, pointedly asked Johnson if he would’ve advised other groups that going-away parties were acceptable.
- According to the Telegraph, a “besieged” Johnson has hinted that he could refuse to accept the verdict if the inquiry finds he misled Parliament. A defiant Johnson obfuscated without ever apologizing for his actions, just their perception.
© Dominic Moore, 2023