Unravelling the Boris Johnson Decision: An Unsettling Perspective
A one-off Friday special
The verdict on the investigation into Boris Johnson seems unequivocal, and, admittedly, the facts as presented appear to be an accurate portrayal of the events. Yet, there's a gnawing disquiet that preoccupies my thoughts. In days past, I might have dismissed this as an adversary receiving his rightful comeuppance. But the gravity of a recent Prime Minister being ousted in such a manner warrants deeper scrutiny and a focus on due process.
The distraction comes from Boris Johnson's eleventh-hour claim that Bernard Jenkin, a committee member who investigated him, had a conflict of interest due to his own actions. This last-minute revelation, presumably aimed at diverting media attention from Johnson's behaviour, has raised serious concerns.
The allegation in question? That Jenkin knowingly attended an event – potentially violating Covid rules – and subsequently withheld this information from the Privileges committee and the House for an entire year. If this assertion is true, then despite its apparent spitefulness, it does present a plausible argument for Johnson's perceived injustice.
Several MPs dismiss this concern, arguing that Jenkin was just one among seven members of the committee and that the decision was unanimous. However, I believe it's more complex than a simple matter of votes. As arguably the most senior Conservative on the committee, Jenkin's thoughts and opinions held substantial sway, shaping the report's draft. If the accusations hold any weight, then, however reluctantly, one must acknowledge that Johnson may not have received fair treatment.
This viewpoint may elicit exasperation among MPs, but it remains my firmly held belief. This notion is corroborated by Johnson's defence barrister, Lord Pannick, who in September 2022, cited Bernard Jenkin's arguments in his legal opinion. Lord Pannick's incisive logic and formidable intellect have been demonstrated time and again in the House of Lords.
It’s worth noting a segment of his legal opinion concerning Bernard Jenkin:
“The views of Sir Bernard Jenkin MP 38 Despite the contents of the Committee's Report, a senior member of the Committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin, has publicly agreed that the criterion for establishing contempt in the present context is that the Member intended to mislead the House. 39 In an interview on BBC Radio 4 on The World at One on 9 August 2022, Sir Bernard stated: "I just think we should be absolutely clear that for anyone to be held in contempt of the House of Commons, it's not just whether they misled the House, it's whether the functioning of the House was significantly impaired by that and whether it was the intention of that person to mislead the House of Commons. This is all laid out in our Report". Unfortunately, this is not "all laid out in [the] Report" of the Committee. The Report adopts an approach inconsistent with Mr Jenkin's comments.”
Clearly, Jenkin’s views were significant in deciding the parameters of the inquiry.
The full opinion is here.
As I pen this, I grapple with an urge to disregard this contentious issue, to leave it to others, but the more I contemplate it, the more I'm convinced of the necessity for a temporary reprieve for Boris Johnson. Unlike in a court of law, Johnson doesn't have the right to appeal the decision, which was made on a balance of probabilities.
In Rishi Sunak's position, I would ascertain the facts before allowing Parliament to consign Boris Johnson to political oblivion come Monday. Their personal animosity should not cloud due process. Only Sunak can delay parliamentary proceedings to establish the facts and discuss potential alternatives if it transpires that Jenkin should have recused himself. And only Sunak can ensure an appeal process, should the facts dictate it. He should act today.
If quoting from this newsletter, please mention “Tom Watson’s newsletter on Substack.” Thank you.
Tom Watson's Newsletter is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.