Love him or hate him, everyone knows that Boris Johnson loves to be the center of attention.
Next Wednesday evening from 2pm, the former PM will once again be in the spotlight in Westminster for a high-stakes appearance, sure to be a popcorn moment for viewers.
Live on TV, members of the privileges committee from all parties will question Mr. Johnson for up to four hours on whether he deliberately lied when he told the House of Commons that he was unaware of the rule-breaking parties at Number 10 during the COVID emergency period.
If MPs find him guilty, they will recommend a punishment that could see him lose his parliamentary seat representing Uxbridge, a calamity that would surely end the political career of a man who would once again be Prime Minister.
Technically, MPs have to decide whether Johnson defied the House by lying to it about the parties and not subsequently correcting his words.
It is a judgment by your peers.
First, the seven deputies of the privileges committee. Then, if the punishment is recommended, the whole House of Commons will say whether or not to implement it.
The committee’s work has already caused uproar in Westminster.
Chris Bryant, the senior Labor MP who chaired it, stepped aside, or rather “recused himself” as the jargon goes, because of earlier outspoken criticism of Johnson.
MPs were reluctant to let the rank-and-file Conservative, Brexiteer maverick Sir Bernard Jenkin, take over, so Harriet Harman, the former Labor deputy leader, was co-opted to the chair.
Meanwhile, two Conservatives on the committee, first-time MP Andy Carter and Alberto Costa, resigned from minor government posts to maintain their place in it. The other members are Allan Dorans (SNP), Yvonne Fovargue (Labour) and Sir Charles Walker (Conservative). Four Conservatives gives them a majority in the seven-member committee.
The taxpayers are pay for Johnson to hire his own lawyers on behalf of the government.
Strong circumstantial case against Mr. Johnson
David Pannick, an independent member of the House of Lords, duly issued views that the committee’s actions are “highly unsatisfactory” and “fundamentally flawed”.
His main argument was that the issue should not be whether Johnson misled the House, but whether there was “intent to mislead.”
Lord Pannick KC’s other clients include Sir Philip Green, Shamima Begum and Manchester City FC.
Parliamentarians are legislators regulating their own affairs and putting Lord Pannick’s argument aside.
However, Johnson’s intentions in making the statements he did will be critical during his questioning next week.
There is a strong circumstantial case against Mr. Johnson. He has repeatedly denied knowledge of the parties and rule-breaking during the 2020 and 2021 COVID restriction periods, despite having announced many of the regulations himself.
He subsequently accepted a fixed penalty notice from the Metropolitan Police and paid a fine for attending a party on his birthday.
Like Sue Gray’s report on partygate earlier, this month’s interim pre-hearing report from the privileges committee cites “evidence that the workplace drinking culture in parts of No 10 continued after it COVID restrictions began” including “birthday parties”. and leaving parties for officials”.
The committee’s report contains photographs that show more alcohol and crowding than the images posted by Ms Gray.
Boris Johnson re-elected to run for Uxbridge at upcoming general election after suggestions of a more secure seat
Senior official warned that Boris Johnson was a ‘distrustful figure’ during the COVID pandemic
However, when Johnson was asked about the matches in the House of Commons after the stories broke in the media in the final months of 2021, he repeatedly denied them.
On December 1, 2021, he told the House: “All guidance was fully followed on Number 10.”
On December 8, he stated: “Guidance was followed and rules were followed at all times… I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations surfaced that there was no party and no COVID rule breaking.”
The committee wants answers on four points
The interim report of the committee equals a rap sheet you will face.
The committee wants answers on four points.
Did Mr. Johnson deceive, that is, lie, when he said that “no rules were broken” and that he “had no knowledge of the meetings”?
Were you honest when you said that you needed to rely on the officials’ assurances that no rules had been broken and that you needed to wait for Sue Gray’s report to find out if any parties had been held where the rules had been broken?
The committee has taken written evidence from 23 people involved and has already concluded “violations of [COVID] the orientation would have been obvious to Mr. Johnson by the time he was in the meetings.”
Lying is a very sensitive subject at Westminster. Many members of the public may think that is what politicians do all the time. But accusations of lying are officially called “non-parliamentary language”, and no MP can directly accuse another of doing so.
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The assumption is that no “honorable or highly honorable” member would lie and that if he inadvertently tells a falsehood, he will correct the official record.
In recent times, government ministers have corrected their statements in Hansard more than a hundred times a year.
Former PM to play for dwindling band of politicians loyal to Boris
No one knows how tough the questioning will be on Wednesday or how Johnson will react.
His lifelong tactic when in a bind is to flatter his audience and try to make a performative joke out of it.
As his admired father Stanley recalls, it worked in the school play at Eton: “Boris was playing the lead. It was pretty obvious he hadn’t learned the part, but he did it splendidly, making up a sequence of almost pentameters as he went along.” Shakespeare’s Perfections”.
Johnson’s appearances before more demanding audiences have not gone so well.
When asked if he was a habitual liar, he could only bluff “I don’t agree with that conclusion.”
He was forced to resign as prime minister last summer, shortly after a member of the MPs’ Liaison Committee told him bluntly that “game is up”.
Sir Max Hastings, who pushed Johnson when he worked for him at The Daily Telegraph now he hates it.
He has commented: “Those who know Boris best like him least.”
Johnson has never been “a man of the House of Commons” but MPs can’t help but know him well by now.
However the committee treats him, Johnson will be playing with the dwindling band of politicians loyal to Boris and members of the party and its champions in the conservative media, who already claim he was unjustly brought down by a left-wing partisan cabal. .
Unlike Mr Johnson who catastrophically tried to use the whip on his MPs. to save his friend Owen Patterson from a 30-day suspension for corruption, Rishi Sunak has said that he will not interfere.
Johnson’s fate may well depend on which direction Conservative MPs take, in committee and then across the House.
The sephologist Peter Kellner has only one piece of advice for those conservatives who yearn to bring Boris back: “don’t do it”, in your own interest.
The investigation is unlikely to go to the heart of Johnson’s political career.
Analyzing an opinion poll conducted by Delta, Kellner points out that Johnson is more unpopular with the public than Sunak or Sir Keir Starmer, and just as disliked as the low-ranking Conservative Party, meaning he wouldn’t bring a rebound with him.
Still, the chances should be slim that the lying investigation would ultimately cut into the heart of Johnson’s political career via the Parliamentarians Removal Act, which was introduced by David Cameron.
First, the committee would have to recommend a suspension of more than 10 session days as punishment, then it would have to be endorsed by a majority in the House. Only then would a recall petition have to take place in your constituency. Then 10% of the electorate in Uxbridge would have to sign him, to kick him out and force a by-election.
That sequence is a tall order.
The bet has to be that “the greased pig”, as David Cameron called him, will once again wriggle out of his political killing sprees and continue to command attention.