Boris Johnson faces ‘damning’ report by MPs into his conduct

Boris Johnson is facing a “totally damning” report that will conclude the former prime minister misled MPs about the partygate scandal, with some Tories saying he should be barred from making a return to parliament.

MPs on the House of Commons privileges committee met on Tuesday to discuss their report, with one person close to the panel saying: “It’s completely, totally damning — one of the most clear-cut cases of contempt I’ve seen.”

Some Conservative MPs want Rishi Sunak to prevent Johnson going on the party’s parliamentary candidates list, to stop him applying for another constituency and making a comeback at the next general election.

Johnson announced on Friday he was quitting as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip after claiming the cross-party privileges committee was engaged in a “political hit job” against him.

The committee has been investigating whether he deliberately misled MPs after saying Covid rules were followed at all times following media reports of Downing Street parties held during coronavirus restrictions.

Johnson made a late submission to the committee close to midnight on Monday, according to its spokesman, who added that the MPs on the panel would deal with his representations and “report promptly”.

But it means publication of the report into Johnson is now set to come on Thursday and be debated in the Commons on Monday, according to a person close to the committee.

Johnson urged the committee to get on with releasing the report to “let the world judge their nonsense”. Insisting there was “no excuse for delay”, he also complained that the committee’s “absurdly unfair rules do not even allow any criticism of their findings”. 

Conservative officials said the government will on Wednesday take steps to launch parliamentary by-elections in Johnson’s seat and that of his ally Nigel Adams, who quit as MP for Selby and Ainsty in Yorkshire last week.

Sunak’s allies said it would be a matter for an internal Conservative party process whether Johnson would be allowed to stand again as a parliamentary candidate.

Meanwhile, Johnson could find any prospect of a future move to the House of Lords blocked if — as expected — the privileges committee condemns his actions as prime minister.

“It might not be a complete disqualification but it would be an important factor to be taken into consideration,” said one former member of the Lords appointments commission, which vets nominations for peerages.

Johnson said last Friday that the privileges committee did not believe his assertions that he “did not lie” over the partygate affair.

“They have wilfully chosen to ignore the truth,” he said, adding: “Their purpose from the beginning has been to find me guilty, regardless of the facts. This is the very definition of a kangaroo court.”

The committee will consider whether Johnson’s critical comments, echoed by other Tory MPs sympathetic to the ex-premier, amount to contempt of parliament.

The committee published a dossier of evidence in March which undermined the former prime minister’s claim that officials told him social distancing guidelines were followed during Downing Street gatherings held in the pandemic.

Simon Case, cabinet secretary, replied “No” when asked by the committee if he had given assurances that guidance was adhered to at all times.

Jack Doyle, director of communications at the time, also told the committee “No” when asked if he had reassured Johnson that Covid rules and guidance were followed at all times.

Martin Reynolds, Johnson’s principal private secretary during the pandemic, challenged the then-prime minister’s plan to tell MPs in December 2021 that rules had not been breached.

“[I] questioned whether it was realistic to argue that all guidance had been followed at all times,” he said.

It is a contempt of parliament to lie in the Commons. Johnson’s spokesman declined to comment.

The committee’s findings are set to be debated — and voted on — by MPs next week, according to people familiar with the matter.

Chris Bryant, Labour chair of the Commons standards committee, said that since Johnson was no longer an MP, the real damage to the former prime minister will be reputational.

“In practice there’s not much we can do except condemn and pour ordure on someone’s head,” added Bryant.

Several Tories are urging Downing Street to ensure Johnson, who was removed from the approved Conservative parliamentary candidates list after stepping down as MP for Uxbridge, is not allowed to contest a seat again.

One cabinet minister pointedly said that before Johnson could make a comeback he would first “have to get on the candidates list”. A former cabinet minister said: “He won’t and shouldn’t be allowed back.”

However some senior Tory figures believe it would be wrong to provoke a new fight with Johnson.

“We should leave it to the members to decide whether he should be a parliamentary candidate, not stitch it up inside the party,” said one Conservative official.

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