Boris Johnson erupts at ‘complete nonsense’ in Partygate grilling
The grim-faced former Prime Minister with his rather testy and tetchy three-and-a-half hours in front of his inquisitors on the committee gave the impression of a man waiting to be sent to the gallows – albeit undeservedly. And it all happened on a day when just 21 Tory colleagues would join him in a Brexit rebellion against Rishi Sunak.
Judgment Day for Boris and Brexit looked as if it had gone Rishi Sunak’s way.
Finally, the current incumbent of Downing Street could stop looking over his shoulder at what his predecessor might be up to.
But things may not be as clear cut as they seem.
For one thing, the committee members appeared to struggle to raise any actual evidence beyond assertions he should have known better that Mr Johnson had deliberately misled Parliament.
While the usual Boris detractors hurled insults on their favourite social media platforms and revelled in his obvious discomfort, nothing was said to confirm his guilt.
And that was not through lack of effort of the committee members – particularly the Tory MPs – who took a confrontational, aggressive approach from the start to their former leader.
Boris Johnson heads to his hearing (Image: Getty)
One in particular – Sir Bernard Jenkin – who had prolonged testy exchanges with Mr Johnson provoked the ire of his pro-Boris colleagues.
“Bernard is an absolute idiot,” one senior backbencher proclaimed. “He always forgets the politics and gets pulled into the weeds somehow.
“He could have put a stop to this nonsense long ago.”
One Tory MP darkly noted: “Bernard hasn’t been reselected yet. Today could have consequences.”
With the grassroots Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO) actively targeting anti-Boris MPs that remark was no joke.
Despite complaints from the committee others insisted on referring to it as “that kangaroo court” in the discussions taking place in Portcullis House (PCH).
But one Boris ally added: “We need to stop calling it a kangaroo court. It actually is demeaning parliament. These people are a joke.”
The mood seemed to be that Mr Johnson was heading to a guilty verdict whether it was fair or not.
Rishi sunak saw off a major rebellion on Brexit (Image: Getty)
One Boris supporter said: “They all seem to have made up their minds what he [Boris] told them.”
Another said: “They should clear him but it’s a question now whether it is a slap on the wrists and an apology or a suspension.”
It’s that point of a suspension where things get interesting with 10 days or more potentially triggering a recall petition and byelection.
One Tory MP said: “That would be the nuclear option and all hell will break out.
“Boris might accept having to apologise but if it comes to a suspension especially one of 10 days or more then the House will divide.
“There is a whipping operation ready to vote against a suspension.”
There was also an implied threat.
“[Tory] colleagues who have not been reselected yet will need to think very carefully about how they vote.”
Boris Johnson was grim faced giving evidence (Image: PARLIAMENT TV)
The fact is that Mr Johnson remains very popular in the party grassroots as well as among a core group of loyalist MPs including Grimsby MP Lia Nici and Jacob Rees-Mogg who sat in support right behind him.
And while team Sunak was congratulating itself for seeing off a European Research Group (ERG) on his Brexit deal over Northern Ireland, all was not well there either.
A very senior Tory MP noted to Express.co.uk: “There were 22 rebels, 48 abstentions, 70 in total. That means Sunak has lost the support of a third of his backbenchers.
“That is very serious indeed and could have repercussions.”
In other words the Sunak/ Boris psychodrama is not as over as some may wish to believe.
But it was also worth noting who voted against.
Among the 22 were three former leaders Mr Johnson, Liz Truss and Iain Duncan Smith. There were former cabinet ministers like Priti Patel and Jacob Rees-Mogg, and a former chairman Sir Jake Berry.
Priti Patel rebelled twice in one day (Image: Getty)
As one rebel noted: “We were made up of those hardened by the years after the eU referendum and the May premiership, the newer MPs mostly from the 2019 intake abstained or held their noses.”
One of those 2019 intakes said: “Yes it was a rotten deal but we need to win the next election and that means we have to unite.”
Another Tory from that cohort said: “This was not the hill to die on. If it had been other circumstances, I would definitely have voted against.”
Then to add to a dramatic day Priti Patel led a second rebellion on early prisoner release.
“It’s 100 percent the reason why the liberal wing of the party wanted to replace Boris with Rishi,” one rebel noted.
The events of today looked like they could be decisive in how the Tories would go forward, so much so that Mr Sunak thought it was a great day to bury publishing his tax returns.
But in truth even though Sunak is winning the battle, the Prime Minister is still locked in a very long Tory civil war with a wounded Boris Johnson remains the man his enemies gather around.