Boris Johnson faces bad omens as he awaits partygate inquiry report

Possible fate of a Scottish MP who broke Covid-19 rules could set precedent for how former prime minister is treated

Boris Johnson is awaiting the outcome of the privileges committee's inquiry into whether he deliberately misled MPs over Downing Street parties during lockdown. Getty
Powered by automated translation

As the threat of suspension hangs over Scottish MP Margaret Ferrier and a possible by-election looms, the omens are not looking good for Boris Johnson.

The Commons standards committee’s recommendation that Ms Ferrier should be barred from political duties for 30 days for breaking Covid-19 restrictions will not bode well for the former prime minister who is tangled up in his own mess.

Mr Johnson is awaiting the outcome of the privileges committee’s “partygate” inquiry into whether he misled Parliament over alleged breaches of lockdown rules.

The ex-Conservative leader put up a robust defence in his recent grilling by the panel, at times raising his voice in a bid to prove his innocence.

The conclusion reached by the seven-member committee, which is chaired by an MP from the opposition Labour Party, will largely determine Mr Johnson’s political future.

While this would be a daunting prospect for any MP, it is even more so for the ex-Tory leader who has shown signs of wanting to make a return as prime minister.

Mr Johnson accepts he misled MPs with his denials of Covid-19 rule-breaking parties in Downing Street while he was prime minister but denies doing so “recklessly”.

Ms Ferrier was stripped of the Scottish National Party whip and received a criminal conviction after travelling from London to Glasgow by train after she tested positive for Covid.

The MP, who represents the Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency in central Scotland, continued to sit in the House of Commons as an independent MP.

Following the committee’s recommendation, the House will now vote on whether a suspension should be implemented.

If MPs back a suspension, a recall petition could be triggered because it exceeds the 10-sitting day threshold. If 10 per cent of her constituents sign a petition, Ms Ferrier will face a by-election.

If Mr Johnson is found to have deliberately misled MPs on parties in Downing Street during lockdowns, it could place him in the testy waters of a by-election.

Meanwhile, three Conservatives who will have a say over Mr Johnson's political fate tried to reduce the suspension of Ms Ferrier to avoid a potential by-election.

While the Commons standards committee that investigated Ms Ferrier’s case operates differently from the privileges committee investigating Mr Johnson’s case, they have some overlapping members.

The minutes of the decision regarding Ms Ferrier show Tory MPs Alberto Costa, Sir Bernard Jenkin and Sir Charles Walker all tried to reduce her recommended sentence to nine sitting days.

Allan Dorans, a member of the SNP, also backed the lesser punishment.

All four are also members of the privileges committee and grilled Mr Johnson in his showdown broadcast live on television.

Tory Andy Carter and Labour’s Yvonne Fovargue, who also sit on both committees, opposed a reduction for Ms Ferrier and voted it down with the backing of the lay members on the standards group.

The six MPs backed Sir Bernard’s call to say the Recall of MPs Act 2015, meaning a suspension of 10 days means a recall petition is triggered, “requires review”.

Ms Ferrier was found to have damaged the reputation of the Commons and put people at risk after taking part in a debate and travelling by public transport while suffering from Covid.

Mr Johnson was earlier this month reselected as the Tories’ candidate for the Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat in west London for the next general election.

After a series of scandals forced him out of Downing Street last September, Mr Johnson has fought to pave a path of return to power. He visited Ukraine in January, in a move that risked being perceived as undermining Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Mr Johnson’s close bond with Volodymyr Zelenskyy was on show for all to see when the Ukrainian President visited London in February and gave a historic speech to Parliament.

The Conservative backbencher was among the first in his party’s ranks to publicly call on Mr Sunak’s government to donate fighter jets to Ukraine.

Mr Johnson’s continued emphasis on the UK’s help for Ukraine is viewed by some observers as part of a well-thought out strategy as he plots a second term as prime minister.

While it is not clear how long Mr Johnson will have to wait to find out the outcome of the privileges committee’s inquiry, The Guardian reported that it could be in May.

Updated: March 31, 2023, 12:38 PM