London: Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has shocked the nation by abruptly quitting as a member of the parliament after being told by a parliamentary committee that he will be sanctioned for misleading Parliament over lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street during his premiership.
Johnson, 58, had been under investigation by a parliamentary inquiry looking into whether he misled the House of Commons about lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Johnson’s decision came on Friday as he received a confidential letter from the MP-led privileges Committee over the crucial matter.
Johnson accused the Commons inquiry of attempting to “drive me out”. In a statement he said: “They have still not produced a shred of evidence that I knowingly or recklessly misled the Commons.”
Earlier on Friday, he received a copy of the yet-to-be-published report, which he claimed was “riddled with inaccuracies and reeks of prejudice”.
In evidence given to the Privileges Committee in March, Johnson admitted misleading Parliament, but denied doing it on purpose. He said social distancing had not been “perfect” at gatherings in Downing Street during COVID lockdowns.
But he said they were “essential” work events, which he claimed were allowed. He insisted the guidelines – as he understood them – were followed at all times.
Announcing he would step down, Johnson issued a lengthy statement in which he said: “I did not lie, and I believe that in their hearts the committee know it.”
“They 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 said. Johnson said he corrected the record as soon as possible, and claimed committee members “know that”.
He said the “current prime minister and then occupant of the same building, Rishi Sunak” also believed they were “working lawfully together”. Johnson condemned the committee as a “kangaroo court”, and claimed that its “purpose from the beginning has been to find me guilty, regardless of the facts”.
Johnson’s departure from political life comes less than four years after he won an 80-seat political majority and nine months after he stood down as prime minister after a police fine for breaking his own COVID rules.
In his statement, Johnson hit out at political enemies for targeting him after he was shown the privileges committee findings against him earlier this week.
“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 [the Labour MP] Harriet Harman, with such egregious bias,” he said.
The resignation will trigger an immediate by-election in Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency. It was the second in a day for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after Nadine Dorries resigned as MP for Mid Bedfordshire after her inclusion on Johnson’s peerage list was blocked.
Labour sources view both the seats as winnable.