Boris Johnson “sew up!” Tories furious with Harman over plot to ax PM | Politics | New
A serving government minister said the inquiry threatened MPs’ right to speak freely. They said: “The Prime Minister’s resignation is a side show of what is really going on.” It follows a ruling by the House of Commons Privileges Committee, chaired by Labor MP Harriet Harman, that Mr Johnson could be found guilty of misleading the House of Commons even though he committed a real mistake.
The committee is to decide whether Mr Johnson was in ‘contempt of the House of Commons’ by saying last year he believed no lockdown rules had been broken at 10 Downing Street. The Metropolitan Police subsequently fined the Prime Minister, his wife Carrie Johnson and former Chancellor Rishi Sunak for attending a birthday celebration in June 2020.
Previously, it was thought the committee would consider whether Mr Johnson misled Parliament ‘deliberately’ or ‘knowingly’. But she released a report that said, “Intent is not necessary for a contempt to be committed.”
Supporters of the Prime Minister say the Committee’s approach would muzzle free speech and debate in Parliament. And some Tory MPs are particularly wary of the role of Ms Harman, a former deputy Labor leader who was also the party’s acting leader twice.
Tory MP Michael Fabricator, a former cabinet minister, said: “This is a plan for total assembly, although I shouldn’t be surprised that Harriet Harman is chair of the committee.
“There is a principle in English law called ‘mens rea’, which means ‘guilty mind’. In other words, you must prove that you intended to commit a crime for a crime to be committed.
He added: “When Parliament returns, I will encourage all MPs – especially those familiar with our legal system – to oppose the Privileges Committee. We have to make a hell of a stink about it.
The Privileges Committee ruled that Mr Johnson could be in contempt simply for making a ‘misrepresentation’, because he is Prime Minister. He said in the report: ‘The Committee may consider the fact that Mr Johnson is Prime Minister to be relevant as inaccurate statements by ministers are inherently liable to fetter or fetter the House.’
He could lose his seat if the Committee decides he should be suspended from Parliament for 14 days or more, or for 10 days when the Commons sits. Under the MPs Recall Act 2015, it would allow voters hostile to Mr Johnson to start a petition demanding a by-election, and only 10% of local voters would have to sign it for the election to take place.
Four of the Committee’s seven MPs are Conservatives, giving it a Conservative majority.
A spokesperson for the Privileges Committee said the report was prepared by procedural and legal experts employed by the House of Commons and not by politicians. They said, “There was no change in the rules.”
The spokesperson said: “A decision on whether contempt has been committed is for the Committee and ultimately for the House to decide based on the evidence of the inquiry. The questions the inquiry will attempt to answer are: first, was the House misled; two, if yes, if it was a contempt; and three, if so, how serious was that disregard.
“The Committee has not yet assessed the evidence and has not prejudged any of these issues.”
The inquiry is due to continue in September once Parliament returns from its summer recess, when Mr Johnson will no longer be Prime Minister. It involves questioning witnesses, including Mr Johnson, in public hearings where they will have to take an oath promising to tell the truth.
Statements he will consider include Mr Johnson’s comment during Prime Minister’s Questions on December 1, 2021, when he said ‘all guidelines were followed in Number 10’.
On December 8, 2021, he said: “I have been assured on several occasions since these allegations emerged that there was no party and no Covid rules were broken”. That day he also said: ‘I myself am disgusted and furious about this, but I repeat what I told him: I was repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken’ .