A U.K. parliamentary committee was expected to publish this week a report on whether former Prime Minister Boris Johnson misled lawmakers over lockdown-flouting parties at his office, after lawmakers met Monday to conclude their inquiry.
British media report that the results of the parliamentary Privileges Committee ‘s highly anticipated investigation into Johnson’s conduct could be published in the coming days.
Ahead of the findings being made public, Johnson unexpectedly quit as a lawmaker on Friday and angrily accused political opponents of driving him out in a “witch hunt.”
The former prime minister, 58, said the Privileges Committee told him he would be sanctioned for misleading Parliament over “partygate,” a series of boozy gatherings in his office that broke strict pandemic restrictions that his government had imposed on the country.
He accused the seven-member committee, the majority of whose members come from his own Conservative party, of bias, calling it a “kangaroo court.” In response, the committee said that Johnson had “impugned the integrity” of Parliament.
Johnson’s successor, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, backed the parliamentary committee.
“This is a properly set up committee that the House (of Commons) has voted to carry out their work,” Sunak’s spokesman, Max Blain, said Monday. “The government will in no way traduce or criticize the work of the committee who are doing exactly what Parliament has asked them to do.”
The committee could have suspended Johnson from the House of Commons if he was found to have lied deliberately. A suspension of 10 days or more means that Johnson’s constituents in his suburban London seat could petition to oust him and elect a new lawmaker.
While Johnson’s move to quit Parliament means he can no longer be suspended, the committee could choose to apply other sanctions like barring him from entering Parliament’s grounds.
Revelations that Johnson and his staff held office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays” in 2020 and 2021, at a time when millions were prohibited from seeing loved ones or even attending family funerals, angered many Britons and added to a string of ethics scandals that spelled his downfall. Johnson resigned as prime minister last summer after a mass exodus of government officials in protest at his leadership.
Police fined him and other senior officials for violating lockdown rules, but Johnson has insisted to lawmakers that he didn’t deliberately mislead Parliament.
He told the committee he “honestly believed” the five events he attended, including a send-off for a staffer and his own surprise birthday party, were “lawful work gatherings” intended to boost morale among overworked staff members coping with a deadly pandemic.
Johnson’s surprise resignation has reopened bitter rifts within the ruling Conservative Party, which has seen dwindling support over 13 years in power and now regularly polls behind the opposition Labour Party.
On Monday, Johnson was also embroiled in growing allegations that he had pressured Sunak to help him nominate his close political supporters for appointment to Parliament’s upper chamber, the House of Lords.
Sunak said Johnson had asked him to “do something I wasn’t prepared to do” by overruling the recommendations of the House of Lords Appointment Commission. Johnson hit back, saying Sunak was “talking rubbish.”
Sunak’s office on Friday published the names of people on Johnson’s “resignation honors list” — honors such as knighthoods that are granted by an outgoing prime minister following their departure from office. The list left out three of Johnson’s key political allies who were widely expected to be included.
Two of those, former ministers Nigel Adams and Nadine Dorries, said they were also quitting Parliament with immediate effect, triggering three special elections for the already troubled Conservatives.