Wednesday was not Boris Johnson’s day. Politically, or legally. Aligning himself to his party’s Eurosceptic far-right rump, Johnson tried spectacularly unsuccessfully to vote down the Northern Ireland protocol compromise, casting himself even further into the party’s fringe.
And the former UK prime minister, his ambition to return to Downing Street undimmed, was then forensically taken apart by Westminster’s privileges committee, most notably by its Tory members, in their probe into whether he had misled parliament either “recklessly or intentionally” over Partygate. His determination to caricature its work as a partisan witch-hunt was as unconvincing as his continued insistence that the infamous lockdown parties in Number 10 were not social gatherings but staff meetings “necessary for work”.
Johnson was weakest in his repeated insistence that he had assurances from advisers which informed his Commons declarations that Covid rules were followed to the letter. The assurances, he revealed, had not come from senior independent civil servants but political appointees, including his communications director, responsible for managing Number 10′s media message. No-one was more likely to give him the answer that he wanted.
And no, he had not even thought of consulting lawyers, preferring instead to leave MPs with the impression that the advice he had received was authoritative and could not be questioned. The committee will almost certainly find that such presumptions rise to the level of “reckless” indifference to the truth. It will almost certainly also dispute his continued contention that the gatherings adhered to social distancing rules, at least while he was present, and that they were “work”.
Reports suggest that although the committee is likely to find against him, it will not recommend a 10-day parliamentary suspension which could precipitate a byelection. But Johnson’s political isolation is pretty complete. He appears a busted flush. Rishi Sunak will be quietly pleased.