Boris Johnson will escape into the night
The former PM will remain a force in Tory politics, even if he never returns
After yesterday’s marathon evidence session, it looks increasingly likely that the Privileges Committee will find that Boris Johnson “deliberately or recklessly” misled Parliament, and recommend a sanction to the House of Commons.
They will probably not go so far as the nuclear option — a suspension long enough to expose him to a recall petition and the threat of a by-election. But, even so, it would be an historic humiliation for the former prime minister.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
In theory, the Government could spare him. The Committee’s recommendations need to be approved by MPs, and the Conservative majority, while more fragile than it looks, is still over 70. During Liz Truss’s fleeting premiership, such an intervention seemed unlikely but not entirely impossible.
Rishi Sunak, however, has been clear that he will not whip in his predecessor’s defence. The convention is that MPs get a free vote on House business, and a free vote it shall be.
This stance can be explained by motives high and base. It really is a reversion to the norm that preceded Johnson’s fateful decision to intervene on behalf of Owen Paterson; it also hasn’t escaped the notice of senior Tories that it was this decision which set off the slow collapse of his premiership.
Sunak’s number one priority is drawing as bright and broad a line as possible between that period and his own, not least because (as Johnson mentioned just the once) he was fined himself.
And Johnson did not act yesterday like a man who thought the cavalry was coming. He defended himself vigorously and at length, but not in a manner that seemed calculated to persuade the seven MPs arrayed against him.
His real audience, one suspects, was the one behind the cameras. Not the professionals and obsessives following live, but the section of Conservative activists and voters who still believe in him.
This is not a small group. When we conducted a special survey of our panel of Tory activists at ConservativeHome over the weekend, almost 60% said they didn’t think he deliberately misled the House and that they thought the Privileges Committee’s investigation was unfair.
And while they might not be as committed to Johnson’s cause as some of his fiercest supporters seem to believe (only a quarter thought he should return as prime minister) there are enough true believers to have some MPs worried about having to vote on his fate before they have been selected for their newly-redrawn constituency.
These are the people who will nurture the myth of Boris; the idea that he could have won the next election and made a triumph of Brexit if he had not been brought down by scheming “marsupials”. They can ensure he remains a force in Tory politics, even if he never returns to the front bench.
And if this vision of himself as the lost prince of the Right happens to increase his earning potential on the book tour and speech circuit? That’s quite the consolation prize.
I am no Boris fan, have despised him for twenty years, but that this was and is a witch hunt is undeniable. The Privileges committee should beware of the precedent they set. And we should all be very frightened.
If any MP can be sanctioned for an inadvertent untruth, even though advised by the Civil Service, that is the end of parliamentary democracy.
Given that the Committee is chaired by a person who tried to legalise child sex abuse, you have to wonder if that is the intention.
The only time I met Boris was over twenty years ago, when he came to speak to the Conservatives in our constituency. I think the general consensus was that he was good company, but had far too many skeletons in his cupboard to be PM. He would never have made it, were it not for Brexit. In that sense, Johnson and Corbyn were the twin beneficiaries of desperately unlikely sets of circumstances, that we will not see again.
Both are history.
“…the lost prince of the Right…”
Why do writers continue with this ridiculous myth? Mr Johnson is NOT of the political Right. He is a Left-of-centre liberal green.
This is why he lost the favour of much of his voting base. As soon as he became PM, it became clear that he had campaigned under a false flag.
Quite right. I have been perfectly happy to see Boris defenestrated because he is not a proper conservative and right winger. Had he had more firmly grounded libertarian instincts he might have saved us from the authoritarian leftist rush to excessive lockdowns and the promotion of unrealistic green programs.
Watching the hearing yesterday, it was interesting to observe that, unlike in a court of law, innuendo, heresay, and conjecture were ” permitted” and there was no mention of the difference between guidelines and the law?
An embarrasing kangaroo court that will only give the ghastly deluded liar more credibility amongst his blind lemming follower tribe.
Especially absurd to see Harriet Harman posing as a judge. She began her career as a solicitor by being found in contempt of court for leaking documents to the press.
If you read her self congratulatory defence, she claims that Liberty, for whom she worked, was loathed by ‘the establishment’.
in reality, the National Council for Civil Liberties (as it was actually called) was led by Patricia Hewitt and strongly supported by Harman, who was trying to legalise child abuse. They were therefore loathed by the entire population. Which is why they changed their name to Liberty. Very useful when hiding a murky past.
A fog of deliberate vagueness from advisers surrounded Bojo as part of the embedded strategy to allow him to wriggle away from accountability on any given issue. Was the same approach to the NI protocol as to Lockdown parties and to half a dozen other slogans he’s used – remember the Red Bus lies? Then the bluster that he didn’t really understand or mean it. A playbook that is as deliberate as it’s deceitful.
They’ll not vote him a 10 day suspension though. Why risk a Tory defeat in a by-election and why make him a cause celebre to a decreasing minority. The fact only 20 Tories voted against the Windsor agreement shows his time has passed.
Lying to Parliament is a big issue. Whatever conclusion the final report reaches the fact even an ex PM has to attend and account for actions a key part of our democracy. It’s been conducted with much less partisanship than in the US. The firmest questions were from Bernard Jenkin, staunch Brexiteer and Tory.
Perhaps the point that did not come out as firmly from the hearing is the requirement of Leaders to set an example, esp when demanding great sacrifice from others. This basic requirement of of any moral leadership completely lost on Bojo. That he suggested a work drinks event somehow more required than being able to attend a funeral of a loved one showed the moral bankruptcy of the man and his defenders.
I did not follow the live hearing but it was certainly unedifying to read of the “judges” putting forward their own interpretations in the form of questions. The impression given was certainly of a biased Star Chamber rather than an independent and judicial examination of the facts. Not a good precedent for the future. Boris may have been selective in consulting advisors who were likely to give him the answer he would like but that is the nature of politicians of all ideological stripes.
I would cheerfully see Boris Johnson on trial alongside Matt Hancock, and then for his self-serving scuppering of a peace deal in Ukraine. But those of us who have been before kangaroo courts of our political enemies know what they look like, so we knew that we were looking at one yesterday. And what was its burden of proof?
On the balance of probabilities, did Johnson intentionally or recklessly mislead Parliament? Yes, of course. Intentionally. But has the evidence submitted to the Privileges Committee proved that beyond reasonable doubt? No. No, it has not. In any case, there is no way that a House of Commons more than half the members of which had to answer to constituency Conservative associations is ever going to accept any report other than Johnson’s full exoneration, so this is all a waste of time.
Could he come back as leader of the Tory Party? Unlikely, but possible I guess. Could he rebuild trust with the overwhelming majority of voters? No chance. The reason why the Parliamentary Party got rid of him, the reason why even darlings of the Right like Kemi Badenoch and Suella Braverman disowned him, was ostensibly because because he was a liar but in reality because they saw him as a liability; 3 safe seats lost in a row, a -52 % approval rating.
In a new poll 72% of people don’t trust him, and also have no doubts the committee hearing was fair, despite desperate and deluded attempts by loyalists to paint it as some kind of kangaroo court. You don’t come back from that. Once you lose trust you don’t regain it.
The Conservatives have a choice after the next election, if they do lose. Pick a leader to make them electable again or disappear down some populist rabbit hole. Should be interesting.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe