Boris Johnson fears No 10 is in a move that could kill off political career
It is being described by cynical Tory MPs as an attempt by Westminster’s ‘Miss Marple’ to kill off Boris Johnson‘s political career – and draw a long sigh of relief from Rishi Sunak in the process.
The lead character in this particular Agatha Christie murder mystery is Harriet Harman, the former Labour Deputy Leader who is heading an MPs’ investigation into Mr Johnson’s conduct at Downing Street by the Privileges Committee.
If the MPs suspend him for ten days or more, on the grounds that they believe Mr Johnson misled Parliament in December 2021 when he denied parties had taken place in No 10, that would automatically trigger a recall petition.
And if that petition was to be signed by more than ten per cent of the local electorate, it could lead to a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat.
Allies of Mr Johnson believe that Mr Sunak, stung by Boris’s attention-grabbing interventions, is cheering on Ms Harman in her work – and that his No 10 team are being too ‘helpful’ to the committee.
It is being described by cynical Tory MPs as an attempt by Westminster’s ‘Miss Marple’ to kill off Boris Johnson’s political career – and draw a long sigh of relief from Rishi Sunak in the process
Mr Johnson has also expressed concern to friends about Mr Sunak’s ‘custodianship’ of Brexit – and in particular the negotiations over the Northern Ireland protocol, which avoids a hard border with Ireland by creating barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the Irish Sea
One source, who believes the investigation is essentially a ‘kangaroo court’ designed to prove Mr Johnson’s guilt, said: ‘Rishi would like nothing more than for the committee to send Boris packing.’
However, according to a senior party source, ‘This is simply not true and completely wrongheaded. A circus-style Privileges Committee is not in anyone’s interest.’
But with Labour retaining a commanding lead in the opinion polls, Mr Johnson remains the default option for many Tory MPs looking for salvation as the clock ticks down to next year’s General Election.
Mr Johnson denies any intention to undermine his successor, despite such unsubtle moves as his ‘ambush’ during President Zelensky’s recent visit to London, when the former PM called for the UK to send jets and tanks to Ukraine to ‘finish the job’.
The dispute between Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt over Mr Wallace’s demand for a £10 billion increase in the defence budget is regarded as a proxy war between the two camps. Mr Wallace is one of Mr Johnson’s last remaining allies in the Cabinet, while Mr Hunt subscribes to Mr Sunak’s desire to keep a tight grip on the Government purse strings.
Some friends of Mr Sunak express the private hope that Mr Wallace will be offered the chance to become the next head of Nato when the current secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg leaves the role in October to ‘get him out of the way’.
Mr Johnson has also expressed concern to friends about Mr Sunak’s ‘custodianship’ of Brexit – and in particular the negotiations over the Northern Ireland protocol, which avoids a hard border with Ireland by creating barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the Irish Sea. Brexiteers have been especially alarmed by indications that judges from the European Court of Justice could retain a role in trade disputes.
Mr Johnson’s concern that his Brexit legacy could be at risk has only deepened in the wake of revelations that Cabinet Minister Michael Gove was present at a private cross-party summit addressing the EU withdrawal’s failings at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire earlier this month.
The summit was held under the banner: ‘How can we make Brexit work better with our neighbours in Europe?’.
All of this comes as Ms Harman has been warned that her probe could start to look like a ‘vendetta’ after it was claimed that she had talked privately to a whistleblower and other witnesses set to appear before the committee.
Senior Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said: ‘If Harriet Harman is trying to be a parliamentary Miss Marple by talking privately to witnesses, that is incompatible with being the chairman of the Privileges Committee.
‘She is a much-respected MP with long and valuable experience of the Commons, but she should not be conducting a private inquiry into whether Boris Johnson deliberately misled the House.’
Boris fears No10 is doing ‘Miss Marple’ Harman’s dirty work
Mr Rees-Mogg previously questioned Ms Harman’s committee role last year when she appeared to side with tweets saying Mr Johnson had lied over Covid lockdown-busting parties at No 10. Now he has repeated his call for her to stand down: ‘Considering her earlier public comments, she risks making it look like a vendetta. Surely, in the interests of open and fair justice, witnesses should be interviewed by the committee as a whole – including Ms Harman – in formal session, not by the chairman privately.
‘Ms Harman’s job should have been to chair this inquiry impartially – not act like some US-style public prosecutor running the investigation for perceived political advantage.’
Last night, sources on the Privileges Committee claimed that her actions were not ‘anything beyond normal committee procedures and in line with what the committee has said publicly about the treatment of witnesses’.
However, a second source told The Mail on Sunday that other MPs on the committee – which comprises four Tories, one SNP member and two from Labour, including Ms Harman – had not been notified of any private conversations that she was having with potential witnesses.
The ex-PM’s lawyers have warned that the inquiry could be ‘fundamentally flawed’ if it finds Mr Johnson in contempt of Parliament even if he unintentionally misled MPs.
Lord Pannick KC, who is acting for Mr Johnson, is also locked in an argument with the committee over whether the former Prime Minister can be represented by his legal counsel when he gives his evidence to it.
The respected barrister has protested, too, at the suggestion that some witnesses against Mr Johnson could remain anonymous.
The committee, however, has said that ‘we have not yet identified any credible evidence where a witness wishes to have their identity withheld from Mr Johnson, and it may be that this situation does not arise’.
A source close to Mr Johnson said: ‘We are continuing to co-operate with the committee. It is yet to particularise any evidence it is proposing to rely on, and we have not heard from them re any plans for oral evidence.’
A Privileges Committee spokesperson stated yesterday that it was ‘currently analysing written evidence submitted to the inquiry by the Government in November, in addition to further written evidence received from witnesses by the deadline of February 7. The committee is continuing to meet regularly.’
DAN HODGES: The fragile truce between Rishi and his old boss is fractured. Now both camps are poised for battle
By Dan Hodges
The fragile truce between Rishi and his old boss is fractured. Now both camps are poised for battle
Boris Johnson has always been wary of Rishi Sunak. ‘It was early in his premiership, and we were discussing promoting Rishi,’ an old ally recalls. ‘But Boris said, ‘The problem is he’s one of the hungry lions. And I don’t want to surround myself with hungry lions. I want to be surrounded by tired old lions.’ ‘
Last week, the fragile truce that has prevailed between the current and former occupants of No 10 finally fractured.
Friends of Johnson have accused Sunak’s associates of covertly plotting with members of the Commons Privileges Committee – which is investigating whether he misled MPs over ‘Partygate‘ – to end his parliamentary career. In response, supporters of the PM claim Johnson is simply interested in self-promotion, and that talk of his possible return to No 10 represents nothing more than vainglorious grandstanding.
‘It’s all about Boris generating publicity for his memoirs and speaking engagements,’ one Minister chided. ‘He doesn’t represent a serious challenge to Rishi. Yes, Boris still might have a role to play in appealing to some voters in some parts of the country. But he’s very polarising. Rishi has a much broader appeal.’
Boris Johnson has always been wary of Rishi Sunak. ‘It was early in his premiership, and we were discussing promoting Rishi,’ an old ally recalls. ‘But Boris said, ‘The problem is he’s one of the hungry lions. And I don’t want to surround myself with hungry lions’
Friends of Johnson have accused Sunak’s associates of covertly plotting with members of the Commons Privileges Committee – which is investigating whether he misled MPs over ‘Partygate’ – to end his parliamentary career
When Sunak was first appointed Chancellor in 2020, Johnson recognised his qualities and sought to harness them. ‘He could see he was someone who was clever and methodical,’ one former Minister explained. ‘That’s the sort of person you want running the Treasury.’
But according to No 10 officials, the pair’s partnership swiftly began to ‘disintegrate’.
One significant factor was the relationship – or perceived relationship – Sunak was building with Johnson’s influential adviser Dom Cummings.
‘Boris began to become paranoid,’ one No 10 source revealed. ‘He started to see shadows everywhere. He thought Rishi was an ally of Dom’s, not an ally of his. Boris liked to surround himself with stooges. Rishi would challenge him. Boris wanted to have complete control.’
MAJOR divisions also emerged over economic policy. Johnson believed significant additional amounts of public money needed to be invested in delivering his cherished Levelling Up agenda, and to head off an impending crisis in the NHS.
But Sunak was much more fiscally cautious. ‘Rishi’s focus as Chancellor was on the country’s spiralling debt,’ a colleague recalls. ‘He was desperate to get spending under control and balance the books. Where Johnson was undisciplined; his solution was to throw money at any problem.’
The breaking point came over Partygate. Sunak believed Johnson had misled him and Cabinet colleagues over the extent of the socialising inside No 10 during lockdown. And when he was fined for his brief appearance at an impromptu birthday event organised by Carrie Johnson, Sunak was so furious that he seriously contemplated resigning.
‘When he was considering walking out, part of it was obviously about the principle of the thing,’ a friend revealed. ‘But it was also about Boris. He realised he just couldn’t trust him. And from that moment, it was only a matter of time before Rishi broke from him.’
Allies of Johnson claim Sunak is simply using the Partygate saga to justify his own treachery. ‘Rishi was threatening to resign over something every other month,’ one told me. ‘He was manoeuvring for Boris’s job from day one.’
They also point to the new tone Sunak has adopted since becoming PM. When he launched his first abortive bid for the premiership against Liz Truss, he went out of his way to praise his former boss. ‘Let me be clear,’ he said, ‘I will have no part in a rewriting of history that seeks to demonise Boris, exaggerate his faults or deny his efforts.’
But when he stood on the steps of No 10 to deliver his first address as Prime Minister, he pointedly observed: ‘I know he [Boris] would agree that the mandate my party earned in 2019 is not the sole property of any one individual. It is a mandate that belongs to and unites all of us.’
Johnson definitely doesn’t agree. He regards that Election victory as a personal triumph, and saw Sunak’s words as a thinly disguised attempt to tarnish his legacy.
Another contentious issue is over the peerages and other honours he wants to bestow as an outgoing PM – Johnson’s so-called ‘Lavender List’, named after Harold Wilson’s notorious resignation honours, drawn up by his aide Marcia Falkender on sheets of lavender notepaper.
Sunak is understood to be fearful it will ignite a political firestorm and is looking for ways to curtail its scope. According to some Government insiders, there is now discussion of the intended recipients being subjected to a ‘rolling vetting process’ so they can be scrutinised on a six-monthly basis to ensure there are no scandals or conflicts of interest that could tarnish the Tories in the run-up to an Election.
But the biggest battleground is set to be over policy.
Some Ministers believe they detect Johnson’s hand behind the increasingly bitter wrangling over the defence budget.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is seen as one of Johnson’s key Cabinet allies, and they see briefings against Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s proposed funding settlement as part of a proxy attack on the Prime Minister.
Other Sunak supporters accuse Johnson of ‘ambushing’ the PM during the recent visit to the UK by Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky. As one said: ‘Zelensky praised Boris in his speech and made the pitch for Ukraine to be given jets. Then, an hour later, Boris releases a statement saying we should give Ukraine the entire RAF. It was obviously co-ordinated. And it was designed to back Rishi into a corner.’
The other flashpoint is Brexit. Allies of Johnson believe Sunak is starting to ‘backslide’ on the commitment to ‘Get Brexit Done’ that underpinned his 2019 Election triumph. They have been pointing to Michael Gove’s attendance at a secret summit in which members of Sir Keir Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet, Lord (Peter) Mandelson and business leaders discussed how to address ‘the failings’ of Brexit.
They have also been nervously watching reports of the deal that Sunak has brokered with the EU over the future of the Northern Ireland protocol.
While details remain a closely guarded secret, Ministers believe it is likely to be rejected by the Democratic Unionist Party, and will enrage Tory MPs who are worried that it would involve an ongoing role for the European courts.
Until recently, No 10 regarded Johnson as an irritant, but nothing more. ‘Boris will be a thorn in Rishi’s side, but there’s no prospect of him unseating him,’ one Minister told me. ‘The party have had enough of the Boris psychodramas.’
Maybe they have. But no one appears to have told Boris Johnson. The truce is over. The Johnson and Sunak camps are gearing up for war. It’s hard to see how the Government can survive it.
https://www.soundhealthandlastingwealth.com/uncategorized/boris-johnson-fears-no-10-is-in-a-move-that-could-kill-off-political-career/ Boris Johnson fears No 10 is in a move that could kill off political career