Boris Johnson deliberately misled parliament: Report
Boris Johnson deliberately misled the British parliament in an unprecedented way over rule-breaking parties at his office during Covid-19 lockdowns, a committee said on Thursday in a damning verdict that further tarnished the former prime minister
Almost a year ago, Johnson was talking about remaining prime minister into the 2030s. But the privileges committee - the main disciplinary body for lawmakers - said on Thursday he should now be stripped of having automatic access to parliament.
The committee also accused Johnson of being "complicit in a campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation" towards them.
In typically combative style Johnson, who in 2019 led the Conservatives to a landslide election victory, dismissed the report as "a lie" and "a charade", and accused committee members of waging a vendetta against him.
The stand-off will do little to heal the deep divisions in the Conservatives and can only pile pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose push to try to boost Britain's flagging economy is being overshadowed by the ongoing Johnson drama.
The more than 100-page report detailed six events held at Downing Street, the prime minister's offices and residence.
"We conclude that in deliberately misleading the House Mr Johnson committed a serious contempt," the committee said:
"The contempt was all the more serious because it was committed by the prime minister, the most senior member of the government. There is no precedent for a prime minister having been found to have deliberately misled the House (of Commons, lower house of parliament)."
It recommended that he should not be entitled to a former member's pass, which enables most former prime ministers and lawmakers to gain automatic access to parliament. Parliament will consider the committee's recommendation on Monday.
Asked about the report's conclusions, a spokesman for Sunak said the prime minister had not as yet read it but he believed the committee had carried out the inquiry properly and "that it would not be right to traduce or criticise the work" of it.
The committee, made up of four Conservatives and three opposition lawmakers, rejected Johnson's defence that the gatherings were within the rules and that his advisers had supported his belief that was the case.
Instead, it said, Johnson 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".
It said that were Johnson still a member of parliament, it would have recommended a suspension from the House of Commons for 90 days.
Johnson resigned from parliament last week after seeing an advance copy of the report, calling the inquiry a "witch hunt", a criticism he made again after its publication.
"I believed, correctly, that these events were reasonably necessary for work purposes. We were managing a pandemic," he said in a statement.
He said the report marked a "dreadful day" for members of parliament (MPs) and for democracy. "This decision means that no MP is free from vendetta, or expulsion on trumped up charges by a tiny minority who want to see him or her gone from the Commons," he said.
He accused the committee of using mystical powers to see things that he had not seen at Downing Street, when, he said, he was duty bound to thank staff who were departing or for their work on Covid-19. The committee did not accept his defence.
The Labour Party said the report was "damning".
"While Rishi Sunak is distracted with the ongoing Tory soap opera people are crying out for leadership on the issues that matter to them," said Thangam Debbonaire, a member of Labour's top team.
A former Johnson aide said the report did little more than confirm his "semi-retirement" from where he would still exert "huge influence" over the Conservative Party.
Johnson has apologised for his conduct but repeatedly denied deliberately misleading parliament, saying he took advice from his aides that his office were following the rules.
But so-called Partygate spelt the beginning of the end for his tenure as prime minister. A rebellion in the Conservative Party last year, when ministers resigned en masse, forced him in July to say he would step down. He left office in September.
He resigned from parliament last week, ending his time as a so-called backbench lawmaker who continued to wield significant influence within the Conservatives that at times undermined Sunak's authority.
They have also rowed this week over the former prime minister's resignation honours list.