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The end for Boris? Johnson quits with departing swipe at Sunak as former PM hints at comeback
10 June 2023, 01:05 | Updated: 10 June 2023, 07:56
Boris Johnson quit his seat as Tory MP in a furious resignation later on Friday night, but the ex-prime minister made a worrying threat to Rishi Sunak as he hinted his departure from politics will only be temporary.
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Boris Johnson resigned as Tory MP with "immediate effect" on Friday in a lengthy statement posted online, just hours after ally and former Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries announced her own resignation
His letter came off the back of the ongoing inquiry into 'Partygate' and whether he knowingly misled Parliament when he said his staff did not break lockdown rules in their booze-filled lockdown parties.
His resignation followed the findings of the privileges committee into inquiry, with Johnson labelling chair Harriet Harman “biased”.
However, the former Prime Minister took a swipe at Rishi Sunak in his departure statement and he warned he'll be staying away from Parliament – "at least for now".
Taking a dig at the current Conservative government, Johnson said: "Our party needs urgently to recapture its sense of momentum and its belief in what this country can do.
"We need to show how we are making the most of Brexit and we need in the next months to be setting out a pro-growth and pro-investment agenda. We need to cut business and personal taxes - and not just as pre-election gimmicks - rather than endlessly putting them up.
"We must not be afraid to be a properly Conservative government.
"Why have we so passively abandoned the prospect of a Free Trade Deal with the US? Why have we junked measures to help people into housing or to scrap EU directives or to promote animal welfare?"
The former PM's mention of a free trade agreement with the US comes just days after Rishi Sunak and Joe Biden confirmed the UK's new "special relationship" with the US through the the "Atlantic Declaration", an economic agreement between the two countries.
But hopes for a long sought-after free trade deal with the States were squashed following the visit.
Mr Johnson went on in his statement: "Of course, it suits the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the SNP to do whatever they can to remove me from parliament.
"Sadly, as we saw in July last year, there are currently some Tory MPs who share that view. I am not alone in thinking that there is a witch hunt under way, to take revenge for Brexit and ultimately to reverse the 2016 referendum result."
Comparisons have been made between Mr Johnson's resignation statement and Trumpian rhetoric since the announcement, as Tory Peer Lord Gavin Barwell pointed to "symmetry" between the two's seeming belief in conspiracy theories.
The news of Mr Trump's second indictment came the same day as Boris' resignation.
Now that Boris and Nadine Dorries have both resigned, it will trigger two by-elections, meaning the Conservatives will face the possibility of losing two seats in quick succession.
Boris' seat in Uxbridge looks set to fall to Labour, meanwhile Dorries' seat remains more uncertain.
Speculation has circulated that Mr Johnson may have resigned with Ms Dorries' more secure Tory seat in sight but this has not been confirmed and he would require approval to run for candidacy.
Mr Johnson admitted to misleading Parliament over lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street, but denied doing so on purpose.
Announcing his resignation on Friday night from his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in west London, Mr Johnson accused the privileges committee of "egregious bias", adding that he was "bewildered and appalled".
He said: "Their purpose from the beginning has been to find me guilty, regardless of facts. This is the very definition of a kangaroo court."
Mr Johnson said that he had been "forced out, anti-democratically, by a committee chaired and managed, by [Labour MP] Harriet Harman, with such egregious bias."
He also criticised the initial investigation led by civil servant Sue Gray, whom Labour have gone on to court for a senior role in leader Sir Keir Starmer's office.
Mr Johnson added: "Nor do I believe that it is any coincidence that her supposedly impartial chief counsel, Daniel Stilitz KC, turned out to be a strong Labour supporter who repeatedly tweeted personal attacks on me and the government."
The privileges committee has since confirmed it will be meeting on Monday to conclude the inquiry so it can “publish its report promptly” following Mr Johnson's accusation of bias.
A spokesman for the Privileges Committee said: "The Committee has followed the procedures and the mandate of the House at all times and will continue to do so.
"Mr Johnson has departed from the processes of the House and has impugned the integrity of the House by his statement. The Committee will meet on Monday to conclude the inquiry and to publish its report promptly."
Reports suggest the committee ruled that he did lie to the Commons by saying that Covid rules were followed in Downing Street over Partygate allegations from during the pandemic.
The committee was allegedly planning to recommend a 10-day suspension for Mr Johnson from the Commons, which would have led to a recall petition among his constituents, opening it up to a potential by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.
The former Prime Minister also said in his statement: "I have received a letter from the Privileges Committee making it clear - much to my amazement - that they are determined to use the proceedings against me to drive me out of Parliament."
He added: "They have still not produced a shred of evidence that I knowingly or recklessly misled the Commons."
Mr Johnson, who was fined by the Met over a Downing Street event - one of more than 120 penalties handed out by the force because of Partygate - previously insisted through spokespeople that he is cooperating fully with the inquiry.
He had denied every "knowingly, deliberately or wittingly" misleading Parliament when he spoke to MPs about claims of events.
Mr Johnson said: "They know perfectly well that when I spoke in the Commons I was saying what I believed sincerely to be true and what I had been briefed to say, like any other minister.
"They know that I corrected the record as soon as possible; and they know that I and every other senior official and minister - including the current Prime Minister and the then occupant of the same building, Rishi Sunak - believed we were working lawfully together.
"I have been an MP since 2001. I take my responsibilities seriously."
Lewis Goodall reacts: Boris Johnson resigns
LBC's Lewis Goodall said in reaction to the news: "So, all out war with Rishi Sunak. Boris Johnson is leaving the political battlefield.
“He has dominated the political stage in this country. Whether you like it or dislike it, he’s been one of the major players over the last 10 year– 15 years in British politics.
“He is a consequential prime minister because of his actions over Brexit. He oversaw the biggest calamity to happen to this country in over 70 years, overseeing the most extraordinary government reaction to it but also one that was characterised often by chaos. One that was characterised by his own hospitalisation.
“His career has been nothing if not consistently dramatic and he finds himself now at its end.”
It comes after Mr Johnson’s resignation honours list was announced on Friday, which has been criticised for its inclusion of staff involved in the Partygate scandal.
Mr Johnson was Prime Minister from 2019 to 2022. He had first been an MP from 2001-2008, before quitting to run for Mayor of London. He served two terms in that role to 2016, when he returned to Parliament.
Opposition MPs were quick to condemn Mr Johnson following his announcement. Deputy leader for the Labour Party Angela Rayner said: "As Boris Johnson exits in disgrace, the British public are sick to the back teeth of this never ending Tory soap opera played out at their expense."
Labour MP Nadia Whittome said: "Don’t let him spin this as a “remainer witch-hunt”.
"Boris Johnson has been exposed for what he is: a Prime Minister who broke the laws he made and then repeatedly lied about it. Simple as that. Good riddance."
His successor as London mayor Sadiq Khan said: "Hours after the PM sends Boris Johnson's mates to the Lords - he resigns after a serious breach of Parliamentary rules. This Government is beyond a joke".
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP who also announced her resignation this week, said: "Everyone knew he was not fit to hold public office before he was even an MP.
"Yet Tories made him their leader & look what happened. Evading scrutiny to the last & choosing to quit just hours after gifting gongs & peerages in atrocious act of patronage & sleaze."
But allies defended him. Former Home Secretary and one of Mr Johnson's close allies, Priti Patel, who was announced on the former PM's honours list on Friday, said: "Boris Johnson has served our country and his constituency with distinction.
"He led world in supporting Ukraine, got Brexit done, and was our most electorally successful prime minister since Margaret Thatcher.
"Boris is a political titan whose legacy will stand the test of time."
Tory MP Eddie Hughes for Bloxwich, Willenhall and Walsall North said: "When Boris came to Bloxwich in 2019, the high street came to a standstill. Everyone wanted to wish him well or get a selfie.
"Buses stopped while the driver and the passengers took photos.
"No one else in British politics has the same affinity with the public."
In a statement Richard Mills, chairman of Uxbridge & South Ruislip Conservative Association, said it had been an "honour and privilege" to work with Boris Johnson since he was elected as the constituency's MP in 2015.
Mr Mills added: "We respect his decision to stand down as our local MP in response to the outcomes proposed by the Parliamentary Privileges Committee in a coordinated campaign against him. "