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15 June 2023

The partygate report is as bad as it could have been

The Privileges Committee’s conclusions are a searing indictment of Boris Johnson’s character.

By Freddie Hayward

The Privileges Committee report – all 50,000 words of it – dropped at 9am this morning, 15 June. It has found that Boris Johnson intentionally misled parliament over whether Covid restrictions were followed in No 10 during lockdown. His resignation statement last week, which disclosed the contents of the report, has itself been found to be contemptuous. The committee has said that if Johnson was still an MP, it would recommend a suspension of 90 days, as well as the revocation of his right as a former MP to access the parliamentary estate. The findings are unanimous. This is as harsh as the committee could be.

The report is a searing indictment of Johnson’s character. It accuses him, fundamentally, of being a liar. Here’s some flavour: “We came to the view that some of Mr Johnson’s denials and explanations were so disingenuous that they were by their very nature deliberate attempts to mislead the Committee and the House, while others demonstrated deliberation because of the frequency with which he closed his mind to the truth.”

In response, Johnson has described the report as a “charade” and the “final knife-thrust in a protracted political assassination”. Over the past week, he has tried to rewrite his legacy from one of personal failure to a story of spurned talent. He’s used reports that Bernard Jenkin, a senior member of the committee, attended a party during Covid restrictions as an opportunity to claim he’s the victim of an establishment witch hunt.

That’s not true. Johnson’s resignation created the illusion that the Privileges Committee would have kicked him out anyway, and that all he did was pre-empt it. In reality, the committee decides whether an MP is in contempt of parliament and, if so, recommends a punishment. Then the House of Commons votes on whether to accept that recommendation. If the suspension is approved and it’s greater than ten days, then a recall petition is triggered in the MP’s constituency. If 10 per cent of constituents sign it, a by-election is called. The MP can then stand in that by-election. Ultimately, the constituents decide. Johnson’s resignation precluded this process. He became a populist afraid of the people.

The complaints of the former prime minister feel increasingly irrelevant. But he and his posse are squeezing their positions for every ounce of pain they can inflict on the Prime Minister. The by-elections triggered by the resignations of Johnson, Nigel Adams and Nadine Dorries are electoral tests Rishi Sunak would rather not face when he’s struggling in the polls. Johnson and Adams are already former MPs. Dorries is delaying, which would potentially push the by-election to the autumn, around the time of the party conference.

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The recriminations will continue. But today’s report is the spluttering, bitter end to the graceless, undignified partygate scandal.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe to it on Substack here.

[See also: Boris Johnson’s statement is an insult to everyone]

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