LONDON—British MPs vote Monday on a damning report that found ex-prime minister Boris Johnson deliberately lied to parliament about lockdown-breaking parties, in what the government hopes will be the final chapter in the damaging “Partygate” scandal.
The parliamentary vote is being held on Johnson’s 59th birthday as the wounded former leader ponders his next move, with allies predicting a future return to the electoral fray.
It also comes at a time of mounting political problems for Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government as stubbornly high inflation and constantly rising interest rates inflict economic pain on voters.
The populist architect of Brexit, Johnson led the Conservative party to a landslide victory at the last general election in December 2019.
But he was forced to quit as prime minister last July due to Partygate and a string of other scandals.
Johnson has rejected the report by parliament’s Privileges Committee, claiming he has been the victim of a stitch-up by political opponents and a “kangaroo court”.
The committee in a scathing 106-page report on Thursday found him guilty of “repeated contempts (of parliament) and… seeking to undermine the parliamentary process.”
“The contempt was all the more serious because it was committed by the prime minister, the most senior member of the government,” the report said, adding there was “no precedent for a prime minister having been found to have deliberately misled the house”.
Even as the vote looked set to draw a line under the Partygate scandal, another video emerged Sunday of Tory party officials partying in December 2020 during lockdown.
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove apologised for the Covid rule breach at a time when the public was banned from socialising or meeting loved ones.
He told the BBC the footage was “terrible” and “indefensible”.
Johnson could have faced a 90-day suspension and the humiliation of having to run for re-election in his constituency had he not quit as a lawmaker on June 9 after receiving an advance copy of the report.
A few of his close allies are expected to vote against the report, but they are said to be unconcerned about the recommended sanction of removing his parliamentary pass.
Johnson has reportedly privately urged supporters not to vote against the report, arguing the sanctions have no practical effect.
Conservative MP and Johnson loyalist Jacob Rees-Mogg predicted that the ex-premier might eventually stage a comeback.
“Perhaps, after the next election, Boris Johnson will return to the fray with a new electoral mandate,” he wrote Saturday in the right-leaning Daily Telegraph.
“His undimmed ebullience and joie de vivre, with a renewed sympathy from the electorate, many of whom think the privilege committee over-egged its pudding, leave him as a powerful force in politics,” he added.
Liz Truss, who briefly succeeded Johnson as prime minister last September, said on Thursday she would “never, ever, ever write Boris off”.
“I am sure we will hear more from him,” she said, adding that she viewed the proposed blocking of his parliamentary pass as “very harsh”.
Under-fire Sunak is now facing four potential by-elections — three linked to the Johnson fall-out.
These will give voters an opportunity to voice discontent over the government’s failure to tame inflation and the cost of living crisis.
While MPs have been caught up in the Johnson affair, commentators have repeatedly warned of a “mortgage time bomb” due to interest rates hikes that show no sign of ending.
Former Conservative minister Justine Greening told the BBC on Sunday it would be easier to persuade the public that the government had moved on if MPs backed the report on Monday.
“I think they should be decisive about supporting the privileges committee’s work,” she said.
“Essentially, it’s important to recognise that MPs, and especially prime ministers, cannot mislead parliament and be allowed to get away with that,” she added.