Never before seen in British democracy: Boris Johnson was found guilty on Thursday by a parliamentary inquiry of lying to Parliament in the “partygate” affair when he was in power, prompting the former prime minister to cry “political assassination”.
The former Tory leader, who is about to celebrate his 59th birthday, resigned his seat as an MP last week after being notified of the damning findings of the 14-month investigation into the parties held in Downing Street during the anti-COVID confinements.
He then attacked his successor Rishi Sunak, and Sunak now has to deal with a powerful enemy who is determined not to remain in the shadows, and who once again vented his anger on Thursday.
In a long and extremely aggressive statement, he reaffirmed his belief that he had done nothing wrong, and denounced the commission’s “lies” and “sick” conclusions.
He accuses the commission of wanting to make “the final stab in a political assassination”: “This is a dark day for MPs and for democracy. This decision means that no MP is safe from a vendetta.”
The committee had to determine whether Boris Johnson had lied to Parliament by repeatedly claiming in the House of Commons that all health restrictions had been adhered to in Downing Street during the COVID crisis. This affair has already earned him a police fine and was a major factor in his departure from power last summer.
“Democratic institutions under attack”
“There is no precedent for a Prime Minister being found guilty of deliberately misleading the House,” the commission concludes. “He has misled the House on a matter of the utmost importance to the House and to the public, and he has done so repeatedly.”
The report also denounces Boris Johnson’s highly virulent, Donald Trump-accented resignation letter as an “attack on British democratic institutions”.
With his seat taken, Boris Johnson is no longer at risk. The commission says it would have recommended 90 days’ suspension had he not slammed the door, which would probably have triggered a by-election.
The document, which is due to be debated by MPs on Monday and then put to the vote, nevertheless calls for him to be stripped of the access former prime ministers have to the premises of Parliament.
Some Conservative MPs close to Boris Johnson have already called on their peers to vote against the report, while the number two in the Labour opposition, Angela Rayner, compared the former leader to “a baby who throws his toys out of the baby carriage because he’s been caught”.
Boris Johnson “should never again be allowed to stand for any office”, said the COVID-19 victims’ association.
Questioned for more than three hours in March, Boris Johnson claimed “hand on heart” that he had not lied.
A year after his resignation from Downing Street, where he spent three scandal-ridden years, his departure prevents this former journalist and Mayor of London from returning to power, at least until next year’s general election.
It has reopened gaping wounds within the Conservative Party, which has been in power for 13 years, but is far behind Labour in the polls.
Boris Johnson retains influential allies and an important aura with the rank and file for having won a historic victory in the 2019 general election and then achieved Brexit, when leaving the European Union seemed deadlocked.
Hostilities are now publicly declared with the government of Rishi Sunak, his former finance minister, already seen as a traitor whose resignation, followed by many others, had led to Mr. Johnson’s downfall last summer.
Tensions have been rekindled in recent days, as the list of decorations and appointments granted to Boris Johnson, as is the tradition for prime ministers after their departure, has been rejected.
While he remains at the center of political and media attention, his ability to cause real harm remains uncertain. Only two MPs followed suit and resigned from Parliament in the last week, at a time when some feared a wave of mass departures would weaken Rishi Sunak’s government.