Of course Boris Johnson is guilty of misleading parliament – stand by for another Tory civil war
They fiddle while Rome burns. Forget Ukraine, the Brexit protocol or asylum seekers in Rwanda. What really has MPs worked up this week is whether Boris Johnson lied to them. They may as well ask, “Does he breathe?”
It has already taken nearly three years for the House of Commons to call the former prime minister to account for holding parties during lockdown. The Metropolitan police long ago spent £460,000 investigating him, declaring him guilty and fining him. The current complaint is merely that Johnson “misled” parliament on the subject. Who does the Commons privileges committee want to believe, Johnson or the police, after three years of tedious publicity?
Clearly Johnson is guilty. The committee has spent nine months confirming it. The public is bored with being told it. After paying the fine, Johnson set the record straight, albeit on the basis that he thought he was innocent. The committee has already altered the charge from deliberately lying to the House to “recklessly” doing so. Everyone could tell he was lying. His own party imposed a far more savage penalty than the police. It sacked him as leader.
In a 50-page defence expected to be published today, Johnson accuses the committee of playing with words over whether he really or even “probably” meant to lie. Officials advise him that the parties were classed as office events rather than Johnsonian raves. He also argues that the committee is packed with enemies who have already gone public with his guilt. On any showing this is a monstrous corruption of a judicial process that has his political future in its hands.
Related: Boris Johnson set to submit Partygate dossier, saying he didn’t deliberately mislead MPs – UK politics live
In a preliminary report on 3 March, the Commons committee gave a strong rebuttal of Johnson’s defence. He now looks as likely to escape conviction as Alexei Navalny before a Moscow court. The inquiry seems chiefly concerned with asserting the dignity and self-importance of backbench MPs. In reality, it is offering Johnson what he most craves: public attention and a chance to fashion a few juicy metaphors to grab the headlines.
Assuming the committee finds against Johnson, it will be for the Commons as a whole to decide if he should be sanctioned by suspension. If that is for 10 days or more it means expulsion and probably a byelection. That is the last thing the Conservative party needs just now, a Trump-like eruption of Johnson activists rampaging against Westminster’s kangaroo courts and setting him up to challenge Rishi Sunak after the next election.
In a week when parliament should be soberly debating the 20th anniversary of its gung-ho declaration of war on Iraq, the Johnson hearing is an irrelevance. Wednesday’s promised four hours of examination is just short of Tony Blair’s defence of the Iraq war before Sir John Chilcot in 2016. It looks suspiciously as though it is the committee, not Johnson, that has brought parliament into disrepute.
Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist
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