The House of Commons voted 354 to 7 during a five-hour debate on Monday night to accept the recommendations of its privileges committee that Boris Johnson should be expelled as an MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in west London for 90 days and also be stripped of his parliamentary security pass.
Never before in British politics has a former Prime Minister — let alone one who won an 80-seat landslide in the 2019 general election — suffered the kind of humiliation that was heaped on Boris.
MPs, who generally refer to each other as “My Honourable Friend”, are not allowed to use the word “liar”, which is invariably ruled out of order by the Speaker.
But on this occasion, it was used repeatedly as the Commons was debating whether Boris had deliberately “misled Parliament” over the drinks parties that were held in 10 Downing during his tenure when the country was under lockdown.
“Boris Johnson is a liar,” declared Pete Wishart, the Scottish National Party member for Perth and North Perthshire. “It would have been unthinkable to say that in this House only a few short months ago: Boris Johnson is a liar. There is something still fundamentally and profoundly shocking about saying that in this hallowed setting of the House of Commons — this institution that we revere so much. But there is no other way to put it: Boris Johnson lied to this House.”
A Labour MP, Chris Bryant, who had stood down as chair of the privileges committee because he had previously made anti-Boris comments, remarked: “Let’s face it, Boris Johnson lied.”
The privileges committee, which Boris has described as a “kangaroo court” even though it has a Tory majority, was chaired when Bryant stepped down by the veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman.
She told the Commons: “The evidence shows that, on a matter that could hardly have been of more importance, Mr Johnson deliberately misled the House, not just once but on numerous occasions. The evidence shows that he denied what was true, asserted what was not true, obfuscated and deceived.
“Misleading the House is not a technicality but a matter of great importance. Our democracy is based on people electing us to scrutinise the Government, and, on behalf of the people we represent, we have to hold the Government to account.
“This is the moment for the House, on behalf of the people of this country, to assert its right to say loud and clear: ‘Government will be accountable. Ministers will be honest. There is no impunity for wrongdoing. Even if you are the Prime Minister—especially if you are the Prime Minister—you must tell the truth to Parliament.’ I urge all Members to support the motion.”
Harman received praise from an unexpected source — the former Tory Prime Minister Theresa May: “Particular thanks should go to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Harman) for being willing to stand up to chair the Committee….it is a rigorous report and I accept its findings.
“I say to Members of my own party that it is doubly important for us to show that we are prepared to act when one of our own, however senior, is found wanting. I will vote in favour of the report of the Privileges Committee and I urge all Members of this House to do so—to uphold standards in public life, to show that we all recognise the responsibility we have to the people we serve and to help to restore faith in our parliamentary democracy.”
Boris has already resigned as an MP, triggering a byelection in his constituency, which the Tories will find it hard to retain since his majority is only 7,210.
Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak was accused of a failure of leadership as he stayed away from the Commons. But this was probably because Rishi did not want to antagonise Boris’s supporters among party members outside Parliament.
Out of 352 Tory MPs, 118 Tory MPs backed the report while others stayed away.
In Rishi’s absence, the debate was led by the leader of the Commons, Penny Mordaunt, who said: “We all owe the Committee a debt of gratitude for the work that it has done on our instruction, but it is for Members to decide whether its conclusions are correct or not. I will be voting to support the Committee’s report and recommendations, but all Members need to make up their own minds and others should leave them alone to do so.”