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Explainer: Why Ex-UK PM Boris Johnson’s resignation as MP matters?

By Reza Javadi

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a sensational move on Friday tendered his resignation as a Member of the Parliament (MP), blaming a parliamentary probe into the Partygate scandal for pushing him out of the House of Commons.

Johnson, 58, laid the responsibility of his resignation at the door of the privileges committee, a British parliamentary committee investigating whether the controversy-ridden former Prime Minister lied to MPs about a series of lockdown-breaching parties at Downing Street in 2021.

In a statement on Thursday, Johnson said he had received a letter from the 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 accused the committee of being a “kangaroo court” and said that “its purpose from the beginning has been to find me guilty, regardless of the facts”.

Apologizing for hastily leaving his constituency, Johnson said he had written to the Association in Uxbridge and South Ruislip to say that he is “stepping down forthwith and triggering an immediate by-election” and adding that he was “very sorry to leave my wonderful constituency.”

The investigation over the former PM’s rule-breaching sagas was announced after revelations that his office hosted lockdown-breaching parties amid the Covid-19 lockdowns when unnecessary gatherings were prohibited in closed spaces.

The public pressure led to Johnson’s resignation as the British Prime Minister at the time.

“They have still not produced a shred of evidence that I knowingly or recklessly misled the Commons,” Johnson complained in his statement, refereeing to the investigation by the Privileges Committee, which accused Johnson of lying to the MPs about the secret parties.

What are Johnson’s claims?

In his lengthy statement, Johnson claimed that he worked “lawfully” even at the time of the Partygate saga and whitewashed himself saying that the parliamentarians and investigators “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.”

He accused them of “willfully ignoring the truth”, claiming that he has been working “sincerely” in his post.

“I have been an MP since 2001. I take my responsibilities seriously. I did not lie, and I believe that in their hearts the Committee knows it,” he wrote.

“But they have willfully chosen to ignore the truth because from the outset their purpose has not been to discover the truth, or genuinely to understand what was in my mind when I spoke in the Commons.”

Describing the result of the investigation as “prejudicial”, Johnson further noted that “most members of the Committee - especially the chair - had already expressed deeply prejudicial remarks about my guilt before they had even seen the evidence. They should have recused themselves.”

The former premier held other British political parties responsible for his political fate, saying that it “suits” the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the SNP to have him removed from the parliament.

He further stated that he had lost faith in the country’s judicial or investigative proceedings.

“It was the same faith in the impartiality of our systems that led me to commission Sue Gray. It is clear that my faith has been misplaced,” Johnsons said.

“It is very sad to be leaving parliament - at least for now - but above all, I am bewildered and appalled that I can be forced out, anti-democratically, by a committee chaired and managed, by Harriet Harman, with such egregious bias.”

Why is Johnson’s resignation important?

The timing of Johnson’s resignation is critical as Conservatives in the United Kingdom are under fire over their poor governance and have lost numerous seats in the parliamentary elections to the Labour Party.

Furthermore, his resignation means that an immediate parliamentary by-election is needed to fill his vacant seat and these elections will add to the already intense pressures on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The Conservatives are on the brink of losing public trust, and many experts and analysts believe that the Labour Party is on track for a landslide victory during the next general election. 

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, called Johnson a “coward” who has “no respect” for the 2019 Conservative voters who put their faith in him.

Lord Fowler, the former speaker for the House of Lords, said the “farce” surrounding his resignation raises the question of whether former prime ministers should be able to hand out awards after leaving office.

British MP Daisy Cooper said Johnson’s political career “should be over for good”.

“I think his comments came straight out of the Donald Trump playbook. The fact is that Boris Johnson has at every single turn rejected findings by MPs, by Parliament, and now by this inquiry," she was quoted as saying by Sky News.

“The fact is that he was never fit to be prime minister in the first place. He’s now jumped before he was pushed. And after all of the enormous hurt he has inflicted on the British public and the chaos that he has caused Parliament I only wish he just realised his political career should be over for good.”

A recent poll, whose findings mark a major blow to the Sunak’s party, reveals that Labour could win 470 seats in the election, while the Tories are likely to plummet to just 129.

According to the baseline scenario of an MRP poll by Focaldata, which asked 10,140 Britons about their decision on voting, the next elections is set to give Labour a huge majority of more than 140 seats, delivering a hard blow to the Tories.

What were Johnson’s scandals?

A series of ethics scandals in recent years led to Johnson’s downfall as the country's premier and have now led to his ouster from parliament as well.

The first of the damning reports about his murky scandals was published in November 2021 by the Daily Mirror of government staff gatherings during the 2020 Christmas season.

Johnson at the time denied the party or the breach of rules by Downing Street staff.

The story became the talk of the town a week later after a video of a mock press conference in 10 Downing Street was broadcast in which Downing Street Press Secretary Allegra Stratton made jokes about a party having taken place earlier.

She was forced to resign from her government position after the video surfaced, but her resignation could not prevent the British premier from stepping down.

After the mock press conference video leaked, Johnson, who was under pressure from the public, announced a Cabinet Office inquiry, undertaken by civil servant Sue Gray.

Her investigation took about half a year and her final report in May 2022 described multiple events, including excessive drinking and a lack of respect shown to cleaning and security staff. She concluded that senior political and civil service leadership "must bear responsibility for this culture".

Subsequent public disquiet over the scandalous events contributed to a sharp decline in public support for Johnson, and finally the Conservative party's loss of the 2021 North Shropshire by-election and poor performance in the 2022 local elections.

Several senior Downing Street staffers resigned as its fallout and calls for Johnson’s resignation also grew louder.

In April 2022, MPs accused Johnson of misleading the parliament and lying about the Downing Street parties to the parliamentary privileges committee. He was forced to resign from the British premiership in June 2023, after having received the committee's final report.

A recent poll showed that the public agreed with investigators, with 65 percent believing that he “knowingly misled parliament” over Partygate.

Another 72 percent of the participants thought it likely that he committed further COVID offenses.

Johnson, who was hoping to return to the British premiership in next year's general election has now effectively bid farewell to British politics with resignation from the parliament.

Reza Javadi is a Ph.D. Candidate in British Studies at the University of Tehran.

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