MPs Conclude Boris Johnson Committed ‘Repeated Contempts’ of Parliament

MPs Conclude Boris Johnson Committed ‘Repeated Contempts’ of Parliament
Boris Johnson giving evidence to the Privileges Committee at the House of Commons, London, on March 22, 2023. (House of Commons/UK Parliament via PA Media)
Alexander Zhang

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed “repeated contempts” of Parliament that merited a 90-day suspension, a cross-party committee of MPs has concluded.

In its final report on the Partygate scandal, published on Thursday, the House of Commons Privileges Committee said, “If Mr. Johnson were still a member he should be suspended from the service of the House for 90 days for repeated contempt and for seeking to undermine the parliamentary process.”

In addition to deliberately misleading Parliament over illegal parties held in Downing Street during COVID-19 lockdowns, Johnson has also been found guilty of attempting to undermine the democratic process and being “complicit in the campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the committee.”

A photograph obtained by ITV News of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a leaving party in Downing Street, London, on Nov. 13. 2020. (ITV/PA Media)
A photograph obtained by ITV News of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a leaving party in Downing Street, London, on Nov. 13. 2020. (ITV/PA Media)

The recommended suspension far exceeded the 10-day threshold which, if approved by the wider House of Commons, could have led to a recall petition in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.

Though his resignation means he will escape the punishment, the committee recommended that he should be barred from having a parliament pass, which is normally available to former MPs.

The former prime minister hit out at what he called a “deranged conclusion,” accusing the committee of lying.

He called the committee “beneath contempt” and claimed its 14-month investigation had delivered “what is intended to be the final knife-thrust in a protracted political assassination.”

Partygate Denials

The Privileges Committee, which is led by Labour MP Harriet Harman but has a Conservative majority, has been investigating whether Johnson misled Parliament when he repeatedly claimed that COVID-19 rules had been “followed at all times” in Downing Street.
The former PM accepted that he misled MPs when he said there had been no parties in breach of COVID-19 rules, but insisted that he made the denials “in good faith” based on the information he had at the time.

In its report, the Privileges Committee wrote, “We conclude that when he told the House and this committee that the rules and guidance were being complied with, his own knowledge was such that he deliberately misled the House and this committee.”

It added, “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.”

The committee dismissed Johnson’s argument that mid-pandemic staff leaving dos were essential to maintain staff morale, noting they attracted police fines while the rules would have been clear to him.

“A workplace ‘thank you,’ leaving drink, birthday celebration or motivational event is obviously neither essential nor reasonably necessary,” the MPs wrote.

“That belief, which he continues to assert, has no reasonable basis in the rules or on the facts.”

They criticised his persistence in arguing an “unsustainable interpretation” of the rules to argue events were permissible as being “disingenuous and a retrospective contrivance to mislead.”

‘Abuse and Attempted Intimidation’

Johnson quit as an MP on June 9, accusing the committee of trying to drive him out of Parliament and calling its investigation into the Partygate scandal a “kangaroo court.”

He claimed the probe has been a “witch hunt” intended to “take revenge for Brexit and ultimately to reverse the 2016 referendum result,” despite the fact that the Privileges Committee has a Tory majority and includes arch-Brexiteer Sir Bernard Jenkin.

Johnson’s loyal allies joined him in the attacks on the committee, with Jacob Rees-Mogg calling the probe “clearly partisan” and “biased.”

The committee found that Johnson breached confidentiality requirements in his resignation statement by criticising the committee’s provisional findings.

“Mr. Johnson’s conduct in making this statement is in itself a very serious contempt,” the report said.

The MPs accused Johnson of “impugning the committee and thereby undermining the democratic process of the House” and “being complicit in the campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the committee.”

‘Dreadful Day’

Attacking the committee’s findings, Johnson said: “This is rubbish. It is a lie. This is a dreadful day for MPs and for democracy.”

Commenting on the report, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey described Johnson as “a liar and law-breaker.”

“He’s treated the public with utter disdain,” Davey posted on Twitter.

“And while these Conservatives fight among themselves again, the country suffers. People are fed up. Rishi Sunak should call a general election and give people the chance to end this charade.”

PA Media contributed to this report.