16 JUNE 2023 | NEWS
Tory MPs are said to be at odds over a motion in the Commons on Monday as to whether a report on former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s conduct while in office should be approved, it is understood in Westminster.
Following the report of an inquiry as to whether he deliberately misled the House of Commons with regard to social gatherings organised in Downing Street during Covid lockdown periods – which has taken around a year to report – many Conservative MPs are understood to be uncertain as to whether to back the Commons motion to approve the Privileges Committee’s report, to vote against it or abstain from it.
Mr Johnson stood down as an MP with immediate effect last Friday, following receipt of a draft copy of the report. He subsequently issued a statement condemning the process and describing the Committee and its findings as a “kangaroo court”.
The report states that Mr Johnson did indeed deliberately mislead MPs when he told the Commons on repeated occasions that all the Covid guidance had been followed at Number 10 at all times. It concludes that he did have “personal knowledge” that there had been breaches of Covid restrictions inside Number 10.
It goes on to state that Mr Johnson was also guilty of contempt of Parliament, as well as of the Committee itself, alleging that he misled its own members while giving evidence and subsequently gave a negative impression of the Committee in a public press statement prior to the official release of its findings.
In that context, the Committee had been due to recommend a suspension of 90 days from the Commons, which would have triggered a recall petition in Mr Johnson’s constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
If a suspension of 10 days or more from the Commons is served upon an MP, there is the potential for constituents to sign a petition to demand that they be recalled. If 10% or more of them were to do so, the MP would be recalled and a by-election would be held.
Wolves understands that the new Conservative candidate selected for Mr Johnson’s former seat is Steve Tuckwell, who will focus his campaign on opposing the expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) proposed by Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. Mr Johnson will therefore not be standing in this seat when the by-election now due is held.
One of the report’s key conclusions was that Mr Johnson relied upon advice given to him by his media officials that all the guidance had been followed, but that his Principal Private Secretary – Martin Reynolds – had separately advised him that this advice might not be “realistic”.
However, Mr Johnson is said to have conveyed this same impression from his media advisers to the House of Commons and to the Privileges Committee when making his testimony to it.
Two of the Committee’s MPs – Allan Dorans (SNP) and Yvonne Fovargue (Labour) – wanted to expel Mr Johnson from the Commons, but the Committee voted against this overall.
There have only been a handful of times in the past hundred years when an MP has been expelled. However, the Committee did recommend in its report that Mr Johnson not be granted the customary parliamentary pass typically issued to former MPs, meaning that he would no longer be entitled to attend the parliamentary estate.
Separately, it has been alleged that Mr Johnson had broken the Ministerial Code by not clearing his appointment as a columnist for The Daily Mail, which was announced today. It is presently understood that his work will begin to be featured from tomorrow.
For two years after they leave service, former MPs are still required to consult Acoba (the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments) on any new appointments. The procedure is in place to ensure there is no conflict of interest. Mr Johnson, however, is said to have only informed them half an hour before accepting the new role.
Acoba has written to Mr Johnson to request an explanation, but a spokesman for the former Prime Minister would say only that: “Boris Johnson is in touch with Acoba and the normal process is being followed.”
But Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, described the body as “toothless”, adding that Mr Johnson was “once again breaking the rules and taking advantage of a broken system for his own benefit”. The body has no powers to enforce a punishment, though a negative ruling could still cause significant reputational damage to a former MP.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has declined to say how he will vote in the motion on the Committee’s report on Monday. However, it has also been reported today that Mr Sunak – who also received a fixed penalty notice for attending the same gathering as Mr Johnson – had previously said in the Commons that he did not attend any Downing Street gatherings himself.
However, it is understood that several long-time loyalists to Mr Johnson, including Sir Simon Clarke, Sir Jake Berry and former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries – who is understood not yet to have commenced the process of vacating her seat after she also stood down last Friday – are intending to vote against the motion to approve the Committee’s report.
The report can be read in full here:borisreport