The end of Boris Johnson?

June 29, 2023 06:00
Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters

Last week the British House of Commons voted 354-7 to approve a damning report by its privileges committee against former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It said he had committed five contempts of Parliament.

The 108-page report followed a 14-month investigation into accusations that Johnson deliberately misled Parliament after stating that, while Prime Minister, Covid-19 rules were followed at all times by him and his staff at his office in Downing Street. It said that he lied by denying that parties that broke the rules were held there.

Its punishment was to suspend him for 90 days from Parliament and withhold his Commons access pass. To avoid such a humiliation, Johnson resigned from Parliament a few days before the report was published. He was the first Prime Minister in British history to be found guilty of deliberately misleading the House of Commons.

Is this the end of political career of Boris Johnson?

Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born on June 19, 1964 and educated at Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford. After a career in journalism, he was elected to Parliament in 2001. From 2008 to 2016, he was twice elected Mayor of London.

In 2016, he was one of the most prominent figures in persuading the British public to vote for Brexit. He served as Foreign Secretary from July 2016 for two years. Then he became leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister in July 2019. He led the negotiations that created the agreement allowing Britain to leave the European Union on January 31 2020. He remained Prime Minister until September 2022, when he resigned because of the “Partygate” scandal.

His two major achievements were rapid delivery of vaccinations during the Covid referendum and strong sanctions against Russia and civil and military support for Ukraine in fighting the invasion it launched.

“He is out because he broke the rules, lied, showed contempt for the voters and the country and because this consistent pattern of behaviour finally caught up with him,” wrote columnist Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times earlier this month. “Nothing in his public life exposed him like the leaving of it.”

The question now is whether he will be able to make or wants a comeback. The opportunity will come in the next general election, when his Conservative Party will, according to every opinion poll, suffer a heavy defeat that will bring the opposition Labour Party to power.

Then Rishi Sunak, the current Prime Minister, is likely to resign as party leader and the Conservatives will have to elect a new one.

For this to happen, Johnson would have to find a new seat and be elected to it. Sunak and the Conservative Party Board have a power of veto over candidates and can block him from standing. It is very much in Sunak’s interest to keep Johnson out because he represents the biggest threat to his leadership.

In December 2019, Johnson led the Party to its largest election victory since 1987. The two main factors were an unpopular Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and his own people skills in electioneering. He is personable and humorous, able to relate to people from different regions and classes.

He remains popular among many in the grass roots of the party. This was why Sunak chose to miss the vote in Parliament on the report by the privileges committee last week. He did not wish to offend Johnson’s supporters by voting against him: safest was to be absent. Five ministers in Sunak’s cabinet voted in favour of the report.

The consensus among the British media is that Sunak and the other party leaders have decided to exclude Johnson and prevent him from obtaining a seat. They see him as too destructive and divisive. His return would only split the party.

They believe that his behaviour during and since the Covid epidemic has changed the view of many British people toward him; previously supportive, they have been disgusted by his personal behaviour and deceit.

Brexit, the main political achievement of Johnson’s tenure, has turned out to be an economic calamity. It has delivered none of the benefits which Johnson and its other supporters promised during the referendum campaign in the spring of 2016.

For his part, Johnson may well decide that he has had enough. His time in office has made him a global celebrity. An entertaining and comic speaker, he can earn thousands of dollars from a single speech, especially from right wing groups in the United States.

He can also earn large sums from writing, both books and newspaper and magazine articles. In speaking and writing, he is a free man and can say what he wants, without the constraints of a political leader.

If I were to put money on the table, I would bet that his political career is over.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.

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