LONDON (AP) — Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson left chaos in his wake on Saturday after leaving parliament lashing out at fellow lawmakers he accused of ousting him in a “hunt for witches”.
As opponents laughed at him, the Tory government absorbed the brunt of another Johnson quake, while a group of loyal supporters insisted the former UK division chief could still do his return.
Less than a year after being ousted as prime minister by his own Tory party, Johnson unexpectedly resigned as lawmaker on Friday night – “at least for now”, he said in a statement of self-justified resignation.
Johnson resigned after being told he would be punished for misleading Parliament over ‘partygate’, a series of rule-breaking gatherings in the Prime Minister’s office during the coronavirus pandemic. Johnson was among dozens of people fined by police for late nights, booze parties and “wine hour Fridays” who breached restrictions the government had imposed on the country.
Johnson admitted he misled Parliament when he assured lawmakers that no rules were broken, but he said he did not do so deliberately, sincerely believing the rallies were events of legitimate work.
A standards committee investigating him seems to see things differently. Johnson resigned after receiving the report from the Privileges Committee, which has yet to be made public. Johnson faced suspension from the House of Commons if the committee found he had deliberately lied.
Johnson, 58, called the committee a “kangaroo court” determined to “kick me out of parliament”.
“Their goal from the beginning was to find me guilty, regardless of the facts,” Johnson said.
The committee, which has a majority of Conservative members, said Johnson had “challenged the integrity” of the House of Commons with his attack. He said he would meet on Monday “to wrap up the investigation and release his report quickly.”
Johnson is a charismatic and erratic figure whose career has seen a series of scandals and comebacks. The disheveled populist, spitting Latino with a mop of blonde hair held important posts but also spent periods on the fringes of politics before Britain’s exit from the European Union propelled him to the top.
A Brexit champion, Johnson led the Tories to a landslide victory in 2019 and kicked Britain out of the EU the following year. But he became mired in scandals over his ethics and judgement, and was forced out as prime minister by his own party in mid-2022.
By leaving Parliament, he avoids a suspension that could have seen him ousted from his seat in the House of Commons by his constituents, leaving him free to stand for Parliament again in the future. His resignation statement suggested he was considering that option. He was highly critical of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who served as Treasury chief in Johnson’s government before jumping ship with many other colleagues in July 2022 – resignations which forced Johnson out the post of Prime Minister.
Conservative ratings declined in the tumultuous final months of Johnson’s term and have not recovered. Opinion polls regularly give the opposition Labor Party a lead of 20 points or more. A national election is to be held by the end of 2024.
“Just a few years after winning the largest majority in nearly half a century, that majority is now clearly under threat,” Johnson said in a statement that sounded like a leadership speech. “Our party urgently needs to regain momentum and faith in what this country can do.”
Johnson’s allies have expressed hope that the former prime minister is not done. Tory lawmaker John Redwood said Johnson “made it clear he did not see this as the end of his involvement in British politics”.
But many others wondered if a politician who often seemed to defy political gravity could make another comeback.
Will Walden, who worked for Johnson when he was mayor of London and UK foreign secretary, said the former prime minister quit because he “saw the writing on the wall”.
“I think the most important thing for people to understand this morning is that there is only one thing that drives Boris and that is that he likes to win, or at least not to lose,” Walden told the BBC. “This report clearly threatened to change all that.”
Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said Johnson often drew inspiration from his political hero, Winston Churchill, who led Britain to victory in World War II only to be ousted from the power in 1945 – then to return to power. several years later.
“I believe he thinks he can spend some time in…the desert before the Conservative Party and the country will call on him again when needed,” Bale said.
“Frankly, I think it’s unlikely. I think partygate has made sure he’s toxic to a lot of voters. And I think the way he’s been doing over the last two or three days – and some people would say over the past two or three years – probably means that most of his colleagues would rather he disappeared in a puff of smoke.