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22 July 2022

Will Boris Johnson face a by-election over partygate?

The Privileges Committee could find the Prime Minister in contempt of parliament and potentially cost him his seat.

By Rachel Wearmouth

Just why Boris Johnson cannot stay in post became even more obvious yesterday (21 July) when MPs confirmed he will be forced to give evidence under oath on partygate.

The House of Commons’ Privileges Select Committee, which is investigating whether the outgoing Prime Minister misled MPs about lockdown gatherings in Downing Street, may find Johnson in contempt of parliament, which could trigger a by-election.

The Speaker of the House, Lindsay Hoyle, clarified this week that the committee’s findings will fall within the remit of the Recall of MPs Act. If found to be in contempt, Johnson could be suspended from the Commons and, if such a suspension lasts ten days or more, he will automatically be subject to a “recall petition”.

This presents a major danger for the Conservatives, because if at least 10 per cent of voters within Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency sign the petition, a by-election will be called. This vote would come at a time when, as the local elections proved, the Tories’ popularity in Greater London – which is where the seat is – has reached an all-time low.

Not only will the drama have been a constant distraction from the business of government, but the Tories face the genuine prospect of Johnson being ejected from the Commons altogether before the next general election in 2024.

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With Johnson’s would-be successors tearing lumps out of each other, and allies of vanquished contender Penny Mordaunt reportedly plotting to stop favourite Liz Truss from winning, the summer could become one long advert for a Labour government.

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The gaping hole where there should be a plan for Britain offers opposition parties space to make their case – something they have struggled to do over the past three years of Johnson chaos.

Ed Davey’s Lib Dems will gather in Staffordshire today (22 July) for a “Blue Wall summit”, as the party figures out how to cause maximum damage in the Tories’ southern, rural strongholds. Keir Starmer, who is making progress in the Red Wall, is preparing to unveil a series of long-demanded policies during conference season in September. Published this week was the Forde report, which pointed the finger at destructive factionalism for the party’s failure to deal with anti-Semitism, is also encouraging some much-needed self-examination from figures on Labour’s left and right. It could serve to unify the party at a crucial juncture in the electoral cycle.

Should Johnson refuse to stand down as an MP, his appearance at the Privileges Committee could prolong and deepen Tory divisions. Many hope he will be tempted by lucrative speaking engagements to vacate politics entirely, but Conservative MPs and members loyal to the disgraced PM are willing him to stay.

The backdrop to a divisive Tory leadership race, meanwhile, is a cost-of-living crisis that is sparking strikes over pay. After 12 years in office, the Conservatives appear missing in action, and bear all the hallmarks of a dysfunctional government circling the political drain. As the blue-on-blue action intensifies, those who want rid are desperately trying to be heard before a new PM takes office on 5 September. The opportunity to land a significant blow has never been greater.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

[See also: Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak: Who can rescue the Tory party’s poll ratings]