Boris Johnson, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, has shocked the nation by quitting as a lawmaker after being told he will be sanctioned for misleading Parliament over a series of rule-breaking parties he and his aides held during the pandemic.
Johnson announced his resignation on Friday, June 9, 2023, after receiving a letter from the Privileges Committee, a cross-party group of MPs that investigates breaches of parliamentary standards. The letter reportedly informed him that he had been found guilty of making false or misleading statements to Parliament about the so-called “party gate” scandal and that he would face a severe penalty, possibly including suspension or expulsion from the House of Commons.
Johnson denied any wrongdoing and accused the committee of being a “kangaroo court” that had conducted a “witch-hunt” against him. He claimed that he had been the victim of a “herd instinct” among his political enemies who wanted to drive him out of public life.
He also launched a scathing attack on his successor, Rishi Sunak, whom he blamed for undermining his leadership and betraying his trust. He accused Sunak of being “a puppet” of the Treasury and “a slave to the spreadsheet” who had failed to deliver on the promises of Brexit and the leveling up agenda.
Johnson’s resignation triggered a by-election in his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, where he had been re-elected with a reduced majority in 2019. It also marked the end of his turbulent and controversial political career, which had seen him rise from a journalist and mayor of London to the leader of the Brexit campaign and the prime minister who delivered Britain’s departure from the European Union.
However, his tenure as prime minister was also marred by multiple scandals, crises, and U-turns, ranging from his unlawful prorogation of Parliament in 2019 to his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. He faced accusations of corruption, cronyism, dishonesty, and incompetence from critics and allies alike. He was also embroiled in several personal controversies over his affairs, children, and finances.
Johnson’s downfall was ultimately triggered by the revelation that he and his staff had hosted or attended at least 126 parties, gatherings, or social events in government buildings between March 2020 and December 2021, when the country was under strict lockdown rules to curb the spread of Covid-19. The parties included a birthday celebration for Johnson in June 2020, a Christmas quiz in December 2020, and a “bring your own booze” event in May 2021.
The scandal sparked public outrage and eroded Johnson’s support among his own party and voters. He faced calls for his resignation from opposition parties, former ministers, Tory backbenchers, and even some cabinet members. He also faced a police investigation and an independent inquiry led by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant.
Gray’s report, published on January 31, 2023, found that Johnson had breached the ministerial code by failing to uphold high standards of conduct and by misleading Parliament about his knowledge and involvement in the parties. She also found that some of his senior advisers had broken the law by organizing or attending the events.
The report triggered a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s leadership on February 1, 2023, which he narrowly survived with 180 votes against him out of 359 Conservative MPs. However, he faced mounting pressure to resign from within his party and eventually announced on February 3, 2023, that he would step down as prime minister and Conservative leader.
He was succeeded by Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor of the exchequer, who won the Conservative leadership contest on March 5, 2023, after defeating Liz Truss, Jeremy Hunt, and Sajid Javid in a runoff vote by the party members. Sunak became Britain’s first prime minister of Indian origin and promised to restore trust and integrity in government.
Johnson remained as an MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip until June 9, 2023, when he resigned after learning that he would be sanctioned by the Privileges Committee. He said he was “sad” to be leaving Parliament and thanked his constituents for their support. He also hinted that he might make a comeback in the future, saying he was leaving “at least for now”.
Johnson’s resignation as an MP has been met with mixed reactions from the public and the political world. Some have praised him for his achievements and charisma, while others have condemned him for his failures and scandals. His legacy as prime minister remains divisive and disputed, as Britain faces the challenges of recovering from the pandemic, adjusting to life outside the EU, and tackling the climate crisis.
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