Lawmakers in the United Kingdom are set to punish former Prime Minister Boris Johnson after he was found to have deliberately misled Parliament by throwing rule-breaking parties at the heart of government during coronavirus lockdowns.
On Monday evening, members of parliament will decide whether to support a report from the parliamentary privileges committee released last week.
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Some Conservative members have said publicly they will either abstain or vote against the report, which recommended a set of sanctions against Johnson.
But with the support of opposition lawmakers, the report’s findings and recommendations are likely to be upheld by Parliament.
As Johnson celebrates his 59th birthday on Monday, he is reminded of the accusations he faces for holding a birthday bash and other events at the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, when the rest of the British population was subject to stringent lockdown measures.
He resigned as MP earlier this month over the inquiry, which he called a “protracted political assassination”.
The parliamentary committee said Johnson would have been suspended as a lawmaker for 90 days for “repeated” contempt of parliament, had he not angrily quit.
What has happened so far?
The so-called “partygate” scandal centres on jovial events held in government offices during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Reportedly boozy affairs in contravention of social-distancing measures, the parties have challenged Johnson’s political career and leading him to resign as premier last July.
Johnson, his wife Carrie, and dozens of government officials have also been fined by police for breaking the social-distancing rules.
News of the parties triggered public outrage, particularly among the families of those who died from the virus.
Over the weekend, a new 45-second video was published by the Daily Mirror, showing a December 2020 party at the ruling Conservative Party’s headquarters.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove told local media that the video was “terrible” and has apologised to the British public.
But Gove disagreed with the parliamentary committee’s findings on Johnson and is preparing to abstain from Monday’s vote, like several other right-wing Conservative MPs.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has not confirmed whether he will be voting.
Keir Starmer, head of the main opposition Labour Party, has urged Sunak and other MPs to show “leadership” over the vote, which is now largely symbolic since Johnson has already resigned.
In an interview with the BBC, Starmer said: “If the prime minister wants to lead, he has to come into Parliament and vote in this debate this afternoon to show where he stands on this issue.”
Why is the vote important?
The vote is being closely watched across the UK as anger towards Johnson remains high among the public.
Most Britons diligently followed the government’s social distancing guidance in 2020 and 2021 and many have accused Johnson and his inner circle of hypocrisy.
Political commentators are discussing whether the episode marks the end of his career in Westminster.
Amanda Henry, whose father died of COVID-19, told Al Jazeera they had “trusted the government to protect all of us, and especially the most vulnerable, and he didn’t do it”.
“I don’t think [Johnson] should have a career in government or be an MP after what he’s done,” Henry said. “It upsets me that he’s not being held accountable.”
Al Jazeera’s Sonia Gallego said, for bereaved families, “watching Boris Johnson undergo this sort of questioning is the closest they get to accountability”.
In its report, the committee said the “contempt” was all the more serious because it was committed by the prime minister, the most senior member of the government.
“There is no precedent for a prime minister having been found to have deliberately misled the House,” it said.
How will the vote unfold?
The House of Commons vote will take place on Monday evening and the outcome is likely to further expose divisions in the governing Conservative Party before a national election expected next year.
If MPs punish Johnson, the 59-year-old’s allies have said those who backed its findings could face a backlash from Conservative members and even face de-selection as parliamentary candidates.
The parliamentary report, authored by a panel including Conservative politicians, says MPs should decide whether Johnson should be denied a parliamentary pass, a privilege that former MPs are entitled to.
Meanwhile, Sunak’s future could be affected, with the Johnson saga damaging the Conservatives’ reputation.
Polls suggest the right-wing party, in power since 2010, is trailing the Labour Party by about 20 percentage points.