Tory MPs divided over Boris: Jacob Rees-Mogg slams 'vindictive' report that will 'help not hinder' former PM's return

16 June 2023, 11:26

Boris Johnson was found to have knowingly misled Parliament by the Privileges Committee
Boris Johnson was found to have knowingly misled Parliament by the Privileges Committee. Picture: Getty
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Tory MPs are divided as they prepare to vote on a report by the Privileges Committee, which found that Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament over lockdown parties.

MPs will be given a free vote, but allies of Mr Johnson warned Tories they could face battles with their local parties to remain as candidates at the next election if they back the motion.

The sanctions proposed by the Tory-majority committee are expected to pass, with only a relatively small group of Johnson loyalists set to oppose the report's findings, although many more Conservatives could simply not turn up.

Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former Cabinet minister who is a staunch ally of Mr Johnson, told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast he believes Mr Sunak "will abstain on the basis that it is a parliamentary matter".

He described the 90-day recommendation for Mr Johnson as "vindictive" and suggested the severity may have "helped his return, rather than hindered it".

Downing Street is yet to say whether the Prime Minister will vote.

Senior Conservative MP Damian Green said that "deliberately abstaining is not really rising to the importance of the occasion".

The former de facto deputy prime minister said he intends to vote to approve the report with a "heavy heart".

Mr Johnson's exit from Parliament has also left Mr Sunak facing a tricky by-election in Uxbridge and South Ruislip on July 20, with Labour hopeful of gaining the west London seat.

Another by-election on the same date, triggered by Tory Nigel Adams who was denied a peerage in Mr Johnson's resignation honours list, will take place in Selby and Ainsty.

Nick Ferrari speaks with Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg

Only seven MPs publicly condemned the report which said Mr Johnson's defence was “so disingenuous that they were by their very nature deliberate attempts to mislead the Committee".

Mr Johnson himself labelled the report "disgraceful" and a "charade", with arch-supporters Nadine Dorries, Brendan Clarke-Smith and James Duddridge all throwing their weight behind the former PM.

Other Tory MPs are torn on how to vote on Monday, with many expected to abstain.

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Boris Johnson lied to Parliament, the Privileges Committee found
Boris Johnson lied to Parliament, the Privileges Committee found. Picture: Getty

The Privileges Committee's long-anticipated report was published on Thursday morning.

It was tasked with determining whether Mr Johnson deliberately or recklessly misled Parliament when he told the House of Commons that he believed all Covid rules were followed - despite lockdown-busting parties taking place inside No10.

The report's findings on when Mr Johnson misled Parliament:

  • When he said that Guidance was followed completely in No. 10, that the Rules and Guidance were followed at all times, that events in No. 10 were within the Rules and Guidance, and that the Rules and Guidance had been followed at all times when he was present at gatherings
  • When he failed to tell the House about his own knowledge of the gatherings where rules or guidance had been broken
  • When he said that he relied on repeated assurances that the rules had not been broken. The assurances he received were not accurately represented by him to the House, nor were they appropriate to be cited to the House as an authoritative indication of No. 10’s compliance with Covid restrictions
  • When he gave the impression that there needed to be an investigation by Sue Gray before he could answer questions when he had personal knowledge that he did not reveal.
  • When he purported to correct the record but instead continued to mislead the House and, by his continuing denials, this Committee

Read More: 'He used the Conservatives!': Boris Johnson's ex-girlfriend Petronella Wyatt claims ex-PM has 'never had a Tory idea'

Read More: Boris Johnson has put 'our parliamentary democracy in the doghouse', ex-Tory MP says

The Committee would have suspended Mr Johnson for 90 days - had he not furiously quit as an MP after learning about the report's findings last week.

Mr Johnson's contempt was made "all the more serious" because he was prime minister, it added.

It has also been recommended by the Committee that Mr Johnson does not receive a former member's pass, which is custom for ex-MPs.

It is understood the Committee's conclusions were hardened after he repeatedly attempted to discredit the cross-party group of MPs, labelling it a "kangaroo court".

Andrew Marr slams 'selfish narcissist' former PM in explosive poem

Mr Johnson was once again furious in his response following the report's publication, slamming the Committee's findings as "patently absurd".

"The committee now says that I deliberately misled the House, and at the moment I spoke I was consciously concealing from the House my knowledge of illicit events," the former prime minister said.

"This is rubbish. It is a lie. In order to reach this deranged conclusion, the Committee is obliged to say a series of things that are patently absurd, or contradicted by the facts."

He continued: "Their argument can be boiled down to: ‘Look at this picture – that’s Boris Johnson with a glass in his hand. He must have known that the event was illegal. Therefore he lied.'

"That is a load of complete tripe.

"That picture was me, in my place of work, trying to encourage and thank my officials in a way that I believed was crucial for the government and for the country as a whole, and in a way which I believed to be wholly within the rules."

Read in Full: Boris Johnson's damning response to privileges committee report

Mr Johnson finished his statement: "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.

"It is Harriet Harman and her Committee.This is a dreadful day for MPs and for democracy.

"This decision means that no MP is free from vendetta, or expulsion on trumped up charges by a tiny minority who want to see him or her gone from the Commons.

"I do not have the slightest contempt for parliament, or for the important work that should be done by the Privileges Committee.

"But for the Privileges Committee to use its prerogatives in this anti-democratic way, to bring about what is intended to be the final knife-thrust in a protracted political assassination – that is beneath contempt.

"It is for the people of this country to decide who sits in parliament, not Harriet Harman."

Petronella Wyatt says Boris Johnson 'is not a Tory at all'

Mr Johnson's former girlfriend and journalist Petronella Wyatt said she was surprised by the report, saying "it was much kinder" than she expected.

Assessing Mr Johnson's notoriety for lying, Ms Wyatt continued: "[Boris] hasn’t just lied to Parliament, he’s lied to everybody he’s lied to everyone who has employed him…he lied to all his friends…but he is the architect of his own downfall.

"But the interesting thing about him is that he has persecution mania. And people with persecution mania think that it’s all a conspiracy and everybody’s out to get them - that isn’t the case.

"The fact is with Boris he arouses…such uncontrollable irritation that you just want him to go away. He brings everything on himself, he’s not this victim."

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