The UK Parliament has overwhelmingly voted to back the Privileges Committee report which found former prime minister Boris Johnson deliberately and repeatedly misled Parliament about breaking his own covid pandemic rules in the Partygate scandal.
MPs voted 354 to 7 to approve the scathing report on June 19.
That included 8 cabinet ministers among 118 Conservatives.
225 Conservatives did not vote – including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and a number of Johnson-supporting Conservative MPs who criticized the report.
The abstentions were variously interpreted as an attempt to avoid a backlash from local Conservative party members, avoid exposing Johnson’s embarrassing lack of support, and a way to hide divisions inside the warring Conservative party.
On his 59th birthday, the vote also means Johnson was stripped of a pass allowing special access to parliament – action recommended by the committee report published on June 15.
The vote and damning report overshadowed the opening of the long-awaited official inquiry into the pandemic which heard from former prime minister David Cameron and former chancellor George Osborne among others about lack of preparations for the covid pandemic.
On the committee report a spokesperson for COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK, said:
“This is another grim reminder that whilst families like mine were saying goodbye to our loved ones over Zoom, the same prime minister that failed us so badly in the first place was breaking his own rules so he could have a party and a laugh.”
David Garfinkel added: “Johnson has shown no remorse. Instead he lied to our faces when he told us that he’d done ‘all he could’ to protect our loved ones. He lied again when he said the rules hadn’t been broken in Number 10, and he’s lied ever since when he’s denied it again and again.”
The inquiry is expected to take 3 years to examine the covid pandemic.
Johnson pre-empted the Privileges Committee conclusions by announcing his resignation from Parliament on June 9 after receiving a draft of their findings days before the committee report was published.
In an echo of Donald Trump’s continued denial of his U.S. election loss, Johnson called the committee a “kangaroo court” and with several key allies tried to establish a narrative claiming he was the victim of a “stitch-up”, “witch hunt” and “political assassination”.
The Privileges Committee investigates potential contempts of Parliament and breaches of privilege and has a majority of 4 members from the governing Conservative party, 2 Labour MPs and one SNP member. Under House of Commons practice, the chair is an Opposition MP, in this case Harriet Harman, former Labour deputy leader and temporary acting leader.
The committee was not specifically investigating lockdown rule-breaking – it was approved and mandated by Parliament on 21 April 2022 to investigate if the House of Commons was misled, and if so whether that constituted a contempt of parliament and how serious was the contempt.
Hearings began in early summer 2022 after the London Metropolitan police finished their inquiry into Partygate rule-breaking and Johnson’s own internal inquiry by civil servant Sue Gray had been published.
The Privileges Committee 106-page final report found that Johnson committed “repeated contempts of parliament”, including misleading the Commons:
- when he said that [covid] guidance was followed completely in No. 10 [Downing Street], that the Rules and Guidance were followed at all times, that events in No. 10 were within the rules and guidance, and that the rules and guidance had been followed at all times when he was present at gatherings
- when he failed to tell the House about his own knowledge of the gatherings where rules or guidance had been broken
- when he said that he relied on repeated assurances that the rules had not been broken. The assurances he received were not accurately represented by him to the House, nor were they appropriate to be cited to the House as an authoritative indication of No. 10’s compliance with Covid restrictions.
In fact one of Johnson’s most senior officials, Martin Reynolds, said in evidence that he advised the former prime minister against making the claim that guidance was followed at all times, questioning whether that was “realistic”.
- when he gave the impression that there needed to be an investigation by Sue Gray before he could answer questions when he had personal knowledge that he did not reveal
- when he purported to correct the record but instead continued to mislead the House and, by his continuing denials, this committee
- was deliberately disingenuous when he tried to reinterpret his statements to the House to avoid their plain meaning and reframe the clear impression that he intended to give, namely i) when he advanced unsustainable interpretations of the rules and guidance to advance the argument that the lack of social distancing at gatherings was permissible within the exceptions which allowed for gatherings, and ii) when he advanced legally impermissible reasons to justify the gatherings.
Before the committee report was published Johnson made a last-minute submission that delayed its publication by a day, called for senior Tory Brexiteer Sir Bernard Jenkin to “explain his actions and resign” from the committee after reports emerged that claimed Jenkin himself had broken lockdown rules like Johnson, described the report as “nonsense”, and claimed “absurdly unfair rules” prevented him from criticising the findings.
That didn’t stop him from issuing a statement minutes after the report which in effect repeated his attacks in recent days, describing it variously as “deranged”, “rubbish”, “a lie”, “tripe”, a “vendetta” of “trumped up charges” and ” anti-democratic”.
It’s reported that the draft report seen by Johnson called for his suspension from Parliament for more than the 10 days which could have triggered a byelection.
But after his outbursts over the weekend, the committee changed its recommended suspension to 90 days – action pre-empted by Johnson’s own resignation – saying Johnson committed further contempts of parliament, in that he “breached the confidence” of the committee by discussing its confidential draft findings prior to their publication; by “impugning the committee and thereby undermining the democratic process of the House”; and was “complicit in the campaign of abuse and intimidation of the Committee.”
As the Johnson Partygate drama entered its last act, long simmering differences between the former prime minister and current prime minister Rishi Sunak burst into the open over Johnson’s resignation honours list.
Sunak’s office published the former prime minister’s list on the morning of June 9 – with 8 names missing from Johnson’s requests for peerages.
That was just hours before Johnson himself resigned and unleashed his attack on the privileges committee.
One of the names on Johnson’s list – Nadine Dorries, the former culture minister who pushed to privatize Channel 4 television – said she was resigning her seat as an MP. But it actually took her 81 days to officially resign on August 26 – along with a scathing resignation statement accusing Prime Minister Sunak of whipping up a “public frenzy” against her and leading a “zombie Parliament”. She had claimed her delay in resigning was because she was waiting for Downing Street to explain why she did not get her peerage.
Dorries original resignation announcement on June 9 was quickly followed by the resignation of another Johnson supporter – Nigel Adams – dropped from the list.
In an unusual comment on June 12, Prime Minister Sunak revealed his predecessor had lobbied him to overturn due process and appoint three Conservative MPs to the House of Lords.
Johnson dismissed the comment publicly as “rubbish”.The resignations required byelections which were held on July 20. The government lost two but held on to Boris Johnson’s previous seat.
The byelections were expected to be difficult for Prime Minister Sunak as he trailed by between 11 and 21 points in popular opinion polls, his party lost thousands of seats in local council elections across England on May 4, and the Conservatives were fractured by divisions.
Parliament agrees – Boris Johnson misled it – BBC News
An embarassing vote – Sky News
How every MP voted
The official Covid Inquiry website
Covid Inquiry opens – The Guardian
The covid inquiry – Globe and Mail, Canada
Covid inquiry – France24
The gap between politicians and the people – Paul Waugh, the i
Boris Johnson misled Parliament
Boris Johnson misled Parliament – Sky News
Boris Johnson misled Parliament – BBC News
Report key findings – The Guardian
UK Parliament Privileges Committee report – full text
The Privileges Committee – Institute for Government
Johnson reaction to committee report
Johnson allies condemn “vindictive” report – The Telegraph
Johnson allies threaten deselection for MPs who vote for Privileges Committee report
Echoes of Donald Trump – New York Times
Sunak Johnson spat over honours list
8 people removed from Johnson’s honours list
Rishi Sunak on Johnson honours list
Nadine Dorries finally resigns
Dorries resignation letter
Nadine Dorries resigning?
Byelections – mixed results
Byelections analysis – The Week in Westminster
How Labour failed in Boris Johnson’s old seat- OpenDemocracy
Local election results May 2023
Boris Johnson resigns as Prime Minister
Sue Gray report on Partygate
AEJ UK meeting on the global consequences of the covid pandemic