The committee’s report found that Johnson “committed a serious contempt” of parliament when, after the so-called “Partygate” scandal which revealed that illegal gatherings took place at Downing Street, Johnson told parliament that rules were followed at all times.
The findings amount to a historic admonishment of a former prime minister, who won a landslide electoral victory less than four years ago but saw his political career collapse amid a series of scandals.
“The contempt was all the more serious because it was committed by the Prime Minister, the most senior member of the government,” the Privileges Committee wrote in its report, published Thursday. “There is no precedent for a Prime Minister having been found to have deliberately misled the House.”
“He misled the House on an issue of the greatest importance to the House and to the public, and did so repeatedly,” the members wrote, adding that Johnson also misled the committee when he presented evidence in his defense.
Johnson resigned as an MP in fury on Friday, days before the report’s publication, nullifying the committee’s recommendation that he be suspended for long enough to force a by-election in his constituency.
But the report added a further, damning recommendation in light of his resignation: that Johnson is denied a former member’s pass to enter parliament, a longstanding convention for ex-MPs.
“We came to the view that some of Mr Johnson’s denials and explanations were so disingenuous that they were by their very nature deliberate attempts to mislead the Committee and the House, while others demonstrated deliberation because of the frequency with which he closed his mind to the truth,” the report found.
It marks the end of a lengthy investigation by the committee – the majority of whom represent Johnson’s Conservative Party – that Johnson and some of his allies attacked as a “kangaroo court.”
But it may not end the Partygate saga. MPs must now vote to accept the report’s findings, a potentially embarrassing exercise certain to expose divisions between Johnson’s supporters in parliament and the current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Committee lambasts Johnson’s ‘vitriol’
The investigation’s focus was on Johnson’s conduct during the Covid-19 pandemic, when he was prime minister and found by police to have breached his own rules limiting gatherings.
One contemporary Downing Street staffer, in a piece of written evidence submitted to the committee, described the prime minister’s residence as “an island oasis of normality” during lockdown.
“This was all part of a wider culture of not adhering to any rules,” the staffer wrote. “Birthday parties, leaving parties and end of week gatherings all continued as normal. Those responsible for the leadership of No. 10 failed to keep it a safe space.”
Unlike a police investigation and a separate parliamentary probe into the parties themselves, this inquest looked at whether Johnson knowingly misled lawmakers in the House of Commons when he reassured them that he was unaware of the parties.
Its findings were unanimous and unambiguous. “We think it highly unlikely on the balance of probabilities that Mr Johnson … could have genuinely believed at the time of his statements to the House that the Rules or Guidance were being complied with,” the report said.
The report also rebukes Johnson for his attacks on the committee’s impartiality, finding that he committed contempt of parliament on several more occasions when giving evidence and when he resigned as MP.
“This attack on a committee carrying out its remit from the democratically elected House itself amounts to an attack on our democratic institutions,” the committee wrote in its report, calling Johnson’s language “vitriolic” and “completely unacceptable.”
Had Johnson stayed on as a parliamentarian, the committee would have recommended a 90-day suspension from the Commons – a ban nine times the threshold that would force a sitting member of parliament to hold a by-election to reclaim their seat.
Johnson, in his own response to the report, called its publication a “dreadful day for democracy.”
“This report is a charade. I was wrong to believe in the committee or its good. faith. The terrible truth is that it is not I who has twisted the truth to suit my purposes,” he said.
‘A pound shop Trump’
Johnson’s reputation is steeped even deeper in disgrace following the publication, despite his furious attempts to discredit the committee in recent days.
He was condemned by Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, as “not only a law-breaker but a liar.”
“He’s not fit for public office and he’s disgraced himself and continues to act like a pound-shop Trump in the way in which he tries to discredit anybody who criticizes his actions,” Rayner told broadcasters on Thursday.
“A decent public servant would have done the honorable thing, would have had a little bit of humility and would have apologized to the British public for what they put them through.”
As well as being the first PM ever to be fined by police while in office, Johnson’s entire premiership was dogged by scandal, ranging from financial irregularities to members of his team being accused of sexual misconduct.
His popularity plummeted toward the end of his time in office – both among the British public and his own MPs. His attempt to come back after his successor Liz Truss was forced to resign fell short after it became apparent that a majority of Conservative MPs would block it.
Johnson has been in a war of words with Sunak, his former finance minister and eventual successor, in recent days – and Sunak has now sought to put distance between Johnson and himself.
Sunak’s spokesperson told reporters Thursday that the committee Johnson has repeatedly attacked is “a properly constituted committee carrying out work at the behest of Parliament.”
Over the weekend, Johnson and two of his allies said they would quit as MPs immediately, forcing three difficult by-elections for a government that is languishing in opinion polls.
The former PM’s departure from the House of Commons is not necessarily good news for Sunak, whom Johnson criticized in his resignation statement.
Johnson and his allies still largely hold Sunak responsible for his predecessor’s political downfall. Johnson has always been an influential figure among Conservative voters, whether inside or outside of parliament.
The prospect of Johnson outside of parliament, writing columns and giving speeches aimed at the voters Sunak needs to win the next election will no doubt cause yet more anxiety in Downing Street.