Theresa May made a thinly-veiled Brexit jibe against Boris Johnson in a blistering intervention during a debate into the Privileges Committee report. MPs in the House of Commons have been debating the report, which found Mr Johnson lied to Parliament over lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street, ahead of a potential vote on its recommendations.
Mrs May, who welcomed the report and its findings, told MPs trust is undermined if the public sees parliamentarians making rules for them, but acting as if they are not for law-makers.
She added: “I believe we have a greater responsibility than most to uphold the rules and set an example. The decision [to vote on the report] also matters to show that Parliament is capable of dealing with members who transgress the rule of this House – if you like, to show the sovereignty of Parliament.
“And following an unsettling period in our political life, support for the Privileges Committee will be a small but important step in restoring people’s trust in members of this House and of Parliament.”
Addressing fellow Tory MPs, Mrs May said: “It is doubly important for us that we are prepared to act when one of our own is found wanting.”
In January 2020, Mr Johnson, as the then Prime Minister, hailed Brexit’s benefits in a televised address to the British people broadcast an hour before the UK’s official exit from the European Union.
He hailed Brexit as a new beginning and vowed to use Britain’s “recaptured sovereignty” to control immigration, negotiate trade agreements and set Britain’s fishing industry free.
Mrs May’s reference to sovereignty on Monday drew a few titters from among MPs, who will vote on the Privileges Committee report later today.
Conservative MPs will be given a free vote, but allies of Mr Johnson have warned they could face battles with their local parties to remain as candidates at the next election if they back the motion.
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Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt said in the debate she will support the motion to approve the Privileges Committee report.
Asked by Shadow Commons Leader Thangam Debbonaire how she would vote, Ms Mordaunt told the Commons: “As the member for Portsmouth North, I will be voting to support the Committee’s report and recommendations.
“But all members need to make up their own minds and others should leave them alone to do so.”
Tory former minister Tobias Ellwood said he would “vote in support” of the report. He said: “Even though Boris Johnson has absented himself from this House, almost to some degree making this report somewhat academic, the nation wants to see its conclusion, the nation who puts us here wants to make sure that this process reaches its conclusion.”
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Tory MP Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg referenced a precedent regarding the perception of bias in a House of Lords committee as he highlighted Harriet Harman’s tweets criticising the ex-PM, asking: “In relation to her famous tweets, how does she think she met the Hoffmann test?”
Ms Harman, who chairs the Privileges Committee, said the Government had given her assurances she would not be seen as biased in her judgment of Mr Johnson.
Ms Harman responded “I am happy to answer that point that is made. I was appointed by this House in the expectation that I would chair the committee with no one speaking against it.
“After the tweets were brought to light, they were highlighted, because I am concerned about the perception of fairness of the committee and I agree that perception matters, I made it my business to find out whether or not it would mean that the Government would not have confidence in me if I continued to chair the committee.
“I actually said I am more than happy to step aside because perception matters and I don’t want to do this if the Government doesn’t have confidence in me, because I need the whole House to have confidence in the work that the committee has mandated.
“I was assured that I should continue the work that the House had mandated with the appointment that the House had put me into and so I did just that.”
Father of the House and Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley said he would “support the committee” adding: “The question I think facing each of us is no matter how many good things we have done, and the former prime minister did many good things, is what we do when we’ve done something wrong.”
Meanwhile, a number of senior Tory MPs hit the campaign trail in Uxbridge and South Ruislip on Monday, with many Conservatives expected to abstain from the potential vote on whether or not to sanction Mr Johnson.
But with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak looking set to duck the potential vote, other senior Tories took themselves away from Westminster before the debate, including Conservative Party chair Greg Hands and Government whip Stuart Anderson.
Both Mr Hands and Mr Anderson joined the campaign trail in support of the Conservative candidate for Mr Johnson’s seat, Steve Tuckwell.
If the report is not opposed, it could just be nodded through in the Commons, saving Mr Sunak from having to choose between further riling Mr Johnson by backing it, voting against the report and risking public anger, or avoiding the action altogether and facing allegations of being weak.
The sanctions proposed by the Tory-majority committee are expected to pass regardless, with only a relatively small group of Johnson loyalists expected to oppose the report’s findings.
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