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UK MPs approve report censuring ex-PM Johnson over 'Partygate'

MPs voted by 354 to seven in favour of the Privileges Committee's findings, with many Conservatives, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, abstaining.

AFP
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Former British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters
Former British prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Reuters

British MPs on Monday voted overwhelmingly to remove ex-prime minister Boris Johnson's parliamentary pass as they approved a damning report that found he lied to Parliament about Covid lockdown-breaking parties.

Following hours of debate, held on Johnson's 59th birthday, MPs voted by 354 to seven in favour of the Privileges Committee's findings, with many Conservatives, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, abstaining.

During the debate, MPs and a former prime minister lined up to urge colleagues to censure Johnson, who quit Parliament when he was informed of the findings.

Johnson's predecessor Theresa May said the vote would be "a small but important step in restoring people's trust" in Parliament.

May urged her party to "show that we are prepared to act when one of our own, however senior, is found wanting", in an apparent jibe at Sunak and his decision to abstain.

Johnson and his dwindling supporters have portrayed the report by the committee as a "witch-hunt".

Former minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said the committee had made a "deliberate attempt to take the most unfavourable interpretation... of Johnson's activities".

But Sunak, who has promised to restore integrity to government, said its bipartisan members had "done their work thoroughly".

'No precedent' 

However, Sunak declined to say how MPs should decide before the report was put to a vote.

"This is a matter for the House rather than the government. That's an important distinction and that is why I wouldn't want to influence anyone in advance of that vote," he told ITV.

Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer, however, tried to keep pressure on Sunak to avoid taking sides between the report's backers and Johnson's vocal supporters in the Conservative party at large.

"He should show leadership. Come along! Get in the (voting) lobby and show us where he stands on this," he said on ITV, accusing Johnson of "miserable misbehaviour".

In a 106-page report last week, the Privileges Committee found Johnson guilty of "repeated contempts (of parliament) and... seeking to undermine the parliamentary process".

There was "no precedent for a prime minister having been found to have deliberately misled the House", it added.

Even as Sunak looks to draw a line under the "Partygate" scandal, another video emerged on Sunday of Tory officials partying in December 2020 during one lockdown.

Government minister Michael Gove apologised for the Covid rule breach, at a time when the public was banned from socialising or meeting loved ones, even if they lay dying in hospitals or care homes.

He told the BBC the footage was "terrible" and "indefensible".

By-election peril 

London's Metropolitan Police force confirmed it was looking into the footage from a 2020 Christmas gathering at Conservative headquarters.

Two of those at the party were recognised in Johnson's controversial resignation honours list, and faced calls to withdraw their names.

By pre-emptively resigning, Johnson thwarted the committee's recommendation to suspend him as an MP for 90 days – which could have led to him facing a daunting re-election battle.

Instead, the committee could only recommend that his parliamentary pass be withdrawn, denying him one privilege normally offered to ex-members.

The under-fire Sunak is now facing four potential by-elections – three linked to fallout from Johnson's honours list.

These promise to be punishing ordeals for Sunak and his party, with the country still in the grip of a cost-of-living crisis.

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