So he’s gone, in a flurry of self-pity, narcissism and baseless accusations. It was typical, classic, un-classy, purely puerile Boris Johnson. Of course he thinks he’s the victim. So no apology. No acceptance of responsibility. No mention of those who abided by the rules when he and his mates flouted them. Nothing but overweening self-regard.
No courage, either. He didn’t dare face the Commons (with its 64-seat Tory working majority), or his voters in his constituency. His attack on the committee was especially cowardly. They have abided by their mandate at every turn, going out of their way to ensure due process and a fair hearing, even being advised by Sir Ernest Ryder, the former head of the tribunal service. But Johnson doesn’t like their conclusion, so he tore up the rulebook in yet another hissy fit (remember the Owen Paterson debacle?), attacking the process despite the fact that he made no complaint when it was set up, when his loyal (but unrewarding) amanuensis Michael Ellis told the Commons that Johnson had “no concerns with this issue being considered by the privileges committee”. To be clear, the terms of the reference, the members of the committee and its chair, were all agreed unanimously by the whole House when he was prime minister. The rest is sour grapes.
Some said his resignation was Trump-like in its denial of the glaringly evident facts. I felt it was more like the Tory minister Jonathan Aitken waving “the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play” back in 1995, just before he was convicted of perjury and sentenced to 18 months in prison. After all, midst all the breathlessness, let’s not forget Johnson is the first prime minister to be ousted from office for lying and (if Johnson’s own account of the privileges report is correct) to be found guilty by a committee of MPs of misleading parliament so culpably that he should be suspended and face a byelection.
Let’s say it loud and clear, he’s the disgraced former prime minister. The liar in chief. And barely 5% of the public think he told the truth.
He hints at a return. I doubt it. He’s more Nixon than Schwarzenegger. Yes, other MPs have been turfed out of the Commons and been voted back by their electorate. When the Tories repeatedly expelled John Wilkes in the 18th century, he kept on coming back and eventually won the battle to allow the publication of proceedings in parliament. And Charles Bradlaugh was expelled over his refusal to swear the oath of allegiance and kept on coming back. But they each had a moral cause. Johnson’s only cause is himself.
What next? The committee will publish its report. Johnson’s team will denounce it (probably without reading it). Most people will conclude he was bang to rights. The committee may additionally conclude that his attacks on the committee were in themselves a contempt of parliament. The report will go to the House. I hope it will denounce and shame him.
Things have to change. I have no problem with political honours. Public service is honourable. (I would say this. I’ve only just been knighted.) But the idea of a resignation honours list is a nonsense, as the departing PM has by definition either been ousted by the voters or their own MPs. So why on earth should they be allowed to shower their loyal Gauleiters with baubles, let alone seats for life in the Lords? And what on earth was Sunak doing, playing along with this disgraceful list from a disgraced member?
The system for deciding whether a minister has lied to parliament via a reference to the privileges committee is far too complex and laborious. The committee was only looking at one of Johnson’s many lies and since then Suella Braverman, Robert Jenrick and Rishi Sunak have all been accused of misleading the House. Yet none will face an investigation or rebuke because that depends on the whole House agreeing. That too has to change.
One final thought. The pressure on the committee members has been intense. They deserve our thanks, not Johnson and his cronies’ shameless, cynical and cowardly aspersions.
• Chris Bryant is the Labour MP for Rhondda and chair of the privileges committee. He recused himself from the Johnson investigation