Ex-British Leader Boris Johnson Quits as Lawmaker Ahead of “Partygate” Report

From a Wall Street Journal story by Max Colchester headlined “Ex-British Leader Boris Johnson Quits as Lawmaker Ahead of ‘Partygate’ Report”:

Boris Johnson, the former British prime minister and one of the country’s most recognized politicians, announced on Friday that he would step down as a lawmaker after a probe into whether he lied to Parliament about his attendance at a series of parties during Covid lockdowns.

Johnson’s decision came after a parliamentary committee concluded a lengthy review into whether he knowingly misled lawmakers after denying attending social events in Downing Street during the Covid-19 pandemic. The social events broke the government’s own rules to the public forbidding such gatherings.

“Their purpose from the beginning has been to find me guilty, regardless of the facts. This is the very definition of a kangaroo court,” Johnson said in a statement announcing his resignation.

The committee hasn’t made its findings public yet. Under U.K. parliamentary convention, if ministers lie to Parliament and don’t quickly correct the record they are expected to resign or face being fired.

The probe into his actions threatened to force him out as a lawmaker. If the cross-party committee had concluded he “recklessly” misled lawmakers, it could have recommended a suspension of 10 sitting days from Parliament. If that was ratified by fellow lawmakers, it would have triggered an election in his Uxbridge district where he holds only a narrow majority.

Johnson has been a lawmaker on-and-off since 2001 and is one of the Conservative Party’s most flamboyant stars. His mop of blond hair and mix of bombast and charm have been a feature of British politics for decades. He oversaw the Brexit campaign and led the Conservative Party to victory in the polls in 2019. However, his poll ratings collapsed after he was found guilty by police of attending a party during a Covid lockdown. Despite repeatedly saying that he hadn’t thought he broke any rules, a mass mutiny in his party forced him out as prime minister last year.

Johnson’s decision doesn’t mean his political career is over. He recently bought a large house in Henley, a district in Oxfordshire that he used to represent. “It is very sad to be leaving parliament – at least for now,” he said.

In his parting statement, Johnson criticized the government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for raising taxes, failing to sign a trade deal with the U.S. and not slashing European Union regulation. He said the move to oust him was part of a witch hunt to take revenge for Brexit and to ultimately reverse the 2016 referendum result.

The prospect of a Johnson comeback has hovered over Sunak’s government for months. Johnson has a devoted following among the party base. He recently criticized Sunak’s attempt to make nice with the EU following years of bad blood.

The Conservative Party is lagging behind the opposition Labour Party by some 15 percentage points in the polls and looks on course to be booted from office during elections expected to be held next year.

Many Conservative lawmakers, including some who backed him, privately said Johnson’s reputation was too tarnished by the drumbeat of scandals during his tenure to return as prime minister before the next election. Following the quick ouster last year of his successor as prime minister, Liz Truss, Johnson attempted a comeback but didn’t have enough support among lawmakers.

The resignation marks the final chapter of a saga known in British political circles as “Partygate.” A dark, almost farcical tale, it proved one of the most egregious examples of a government that failed to abide by its own lockdown rules during the Covid era. While Johnson was in office, numerous social gatherings took place in Downing Street during periods when Johnson had declared it illegal for British people to mingle en masse.

A government report last year concluded that 16 social gatherings were held in government offices, including in Johnson’s Downing Street residence, during various lockdowns. Tales of suitcases of wine being wheeled into Downing Street and a senior adviser to Johnson sending out a mass invitation to a “Bring Your Own Booze” summer party horrified large parts of the British public, most of whom endured long months cooped up indoors.

The police fined Johnson for a gathering in June 2020 that took place in the Downing Street cabinet room, according to the government. On that day, Johnson’s wife, Carrie Johnson, held a surprise party to mark the prime minister’s birthday, an event Sunak also attended. Sunak and both Johnsons were fined by the police for attending. Johnson during a recent hearing with the privileges committee argued that he hadn’t knowingly broken any rules as he thought it was his job to get his staff together during lockdown and keep them motivated.

He has in recent months kept a relatively low profile, focusing on lobbying for more Western support for Ukraine, one of the brighter legacies of his time in office.

Max Colchester is the WSJ’s U.K. correspondent writing about British politics and national security.

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