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  1. The Staggers
10 June 2023

The Conservatives must finally move on from Boris Johnson

Johnson was never fit to be prime minister – the Tories should put him and his legacy behind them.

By David Gauke

Self-pitying, misleading, manipulative, delusional and undignified, it was, in some respects, a fitting resignation statement from Boris Johnson.  It encapsulated many of the attributes that have characterised his entire career.

It is worth stepping back to note what we actually learnt from the statement. The Privileges Committee – a majority of whose members are Conservative MPs – had concluded that Johnson had misled the House of Commons and had determined that he should be suspended for ten days or more. Today we may be discussing Johnson’s future but we should not let this fact simply become yesterday’s news. For a recent prime minister to be found to be guilty of misleading the Commons, and for a substantial suspension to be recommended, is an extraordinary event and an extraordinary humiliation for Johnson.

Some people might have responded with humility, demonstrating contrition. Not Johnson. It is all the fault of a “kangaroo court” whose “purpose from the beginning has been to find me guilty, regardless of the facts”.

Johnson, according to his own account, is a victim of “witch hunt”. That is why the Privileges Committee concluded as it did, and why Conservative MPs forced him from 10 Downing Street last July.  And why? “To take revenge for Brexit and ultimately to reverse the 2016 referendum result”, says Johnson.  It is an improbable explanation for the actions of Sir Bernard Jenkin but presumably he hopes it will rally his partisans.

[See also: Boris Johnson won’t be back]

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The Privileges Committee is not Johnson’s only target. “Our party needs urgently to recapture its sense of momentum and its belief in what this country can do,” Johnson declares before listing what he sees as the failures of Rishi Sunak’s government.  

A free trade deal with the US, he says, has been “passively abandoned”, ignoring the fact the US has no interest in agreeing one; measures to help people into housing have been “junked” (it was under Johnson’s watch that planning reform was abandoned); personal and business taxes need to be cut – it was Johnson who was PM when increases in corporation tax rates were announced and that he bears much responsibility for the fiscal situation the country finds itself in.

This is not a statement from someone who considers his political career over. He is “very sad to be leaving parliament – at least for now”, he says ominously. I have generally been in the “don’t write him off” camp but talk of Johnson returning through the Mid Bedfordshire by-election – Nadine Dorries’ former seat – is surely fanciful. Sunak could block his candidature and, if he has any political sense, would do so. Indeed, any Tory leader should know by now that allowing Johnson to return might be a fatal error as he will always scheme to replace them. It is in his nature.

As it is, Johnson looks set to cause problems from outside parliament. He will complain about being removed from parliament by a seven-member committee when he could have taken his case to MPs as a whole or the people of Uxbridge & South Ruislip. He will claim that he was on course to be re-elected before he was removed when the polling suggests otherwise. He will continue to blame everybody else for his own mistakes and errors.

In that sense, Johnson will not move on. But the Conservatives must. Now is not the time for conciliation, let alone indulgence. Johnson is a wrong ‘un and was never fit to be prime minister. The Conservative Party will pay a price for allowing that to happen. The sooner they put him and his legacy behind them, the better.

[See also: Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson’s enablers should never be forgiven]

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