I attended the debate on 19 June. Questioning the propriety and behaviour of an elected Member of Parliament and considering questions of integrity and potential contempt should be a time for sombre reflection and impartiality, not an occasion for political partisanship. Unfortunately, the opening speech for the opposition by the Shadow Leader of the House lapsed into what I believe was an inappropriate partisan tone from the outset. This was in contrast to some excellent speeches, including from the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, and from Harriet Harman, the Chair of the Committee, but sadly, it set the tone for what was, at times an extremely ugly debate.
Normally, my default position is to want to vote for a Report by the Privileges Committee as it is important to uphold our parliamentary institutions and to resist those who wish to see the powers exercised outside the elected house. I was appalled to hear Boris Johnson refer to the Committee as “a kangaroo court” which is not only hugely disrespectful to fellow MPs, but the officials and legal advisers who have contributed so much to the process.
It was even more outrageous that a number of individuals were using the media to threaten other MPs over how they might vote. This is, I believe, an issue that is being taken up with the speaker to determine whether this is in fact a breach of privilege. No amount of pressure would have convinced me to vote against the report.
I believe that the extremely petulant reaction to receiving the draft report by Boris Johnson was completely unacceptable, but I also felt that the 90 days penalty imposed by the Committee was excessive by historical standards, and that the withholding of the MP’s pass looked petty and small-minded. That, along with the conduct of the debate itself, is why I decided to abstain on the vote.
I think it is a great pity that the former Prime Minister will be remembered for this episode when he deserves to be remembered as the Prime Minister who led the government which obtained early vaccines in the Covid pandemic and provided great leadership in the European crisis that is represented by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Perhaps it was all an inevitable end to the way that Boris Johnson conducted himself in politics, but I believe that it is, all in all, a sad day in public life, which I hope Parliament can quickly put behind us.