A committee of U.K. lawmakers harshly rebuked former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Thursday. Saying Johnson misled Parliament about lockdown-flouting parties. And was complicit in a campaign to intimidate those investigating his conduct during the coronavirus pandemic.
The House of Commons Privileges Committee found Johnson’s actions were such a flagrant violation of the rules. That they warranted a 90-day suspension from Parliament. Where he still served after stepping down as prime minister last year. The committee’s sanction would have been more than enough to trigger a by-election that could have cost Johnson his seat in Parliament. But he avoided that ignominy by resigning last week after the committee gave him advance notice of its findings.
The release of the Commons committee’s scathing 77-page report Thursday touched off an angry exchange of recriminations. Johnson repeated his claim that the panel was a “kangaroo court” bent on ousting him from Parliament. The committee said the defence he had provided was an after-the-fact justification and “no more than an artifice.”
The report and reaction to it highlight the battle over Johnson’s legacy as Britain prepares for elections. That could radically alter social and economic policy in a nation struggling to overcome a cost-of-living crisis. Moreover, complaints about government services range from healthcare to law enforcement.
The Conservative Party, which has governed the U.K. since 2010, lags far behind the more liberal Labour Party in public opinion polls.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has desperately tried to shift attention away from Johnson since he took office in October. Promising to cut inflation, control immigration and reduce government debt ahead of an election that must occur by December 2024. But Johnson looms in the background, still revered by many Conservatives for winning an overwhelming victory in December 2019 and then delivering Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Attention will remain on Johnson for now because the full House of Commons must debate the committee’s report, providing another opportunity for the former prime minister’s backers and detractors to do battle. After the debate, lawmakers will vote on whether to uphold the panel’s findings and recommended sanctions.
British news organizations first revealed that members of Johnson’s staff held a series of parties in 2020 and 2021 when such gatherings were prohibited by pandemic restrictions. The “partygate” scandal angered the public, distracted lawmakers and was at the centre of Thursday’s report.
Johnson initially denied that any parties took place, then repeatedly assured lawmakers that pandemic rules and guidelines were followed at all times.
The committee, which took testimony from Johnson and senior members of his government during its 14-month investigation, concluded that those assurances were misleading and that Johnson failed to correct the record when asked to do so. This amounted to a “serious contempt” of Parliament, the panel found.