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Mar 22, 2023
Johnson Joins Brexit Rebels Before Partygate Hearing: UK Latest
(Bloomberg) -- UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak won a key Parliamentary vote on his new Brexit deal as his former boss Boris Johnson gave a robust defense of his actions and words during the so-called Partygate scandal.
In one of the premier’s biggest days in Parliament since taking office in October, he won overwhelming support in the House of Commons for a key component of his new agreement with the European Union.
Meanwhile Johnson — who sees Sunak as instrumental to his downfall last year and opposed him in Wednesday’s motion — gave three hours of evidence to a panel that’s seeking to establish whether he deliberately lied to lawmakers over Partygate, a series of gatherings in Downing Street during the pandemic.
https://t.co/hNtejb40Tm pic.twitter.com/nmItv6pU3w— Bloomberg UK (@BloombergUK) March 22, 2023
Sunak will be relieved his Brexit deal passed without a bigger rebellion from Tory backbenchers. The forensic approach the committee took with Johnson over rule-breaking during Covid may also kill off any lingering hopes Johnson has of returning to power — although the committee isn’t likely to provide a final verdict for weeks.
- Sunak wins Brexit vote by 515 to 29 in House of Commons
- Johnson and Truss voted against the new Brexit arrangements
- Johnson says there’s “not a shred of evidence” he deliberately misled Parliament
Johnson Closes Hearing With Appeal (5:20 p.m.)
Johnson took a different line to his allies, who have described the committee as a kangaroo court and a circus. While the temperature rose in some exchanges, the former prime minister remained polite through three hours of intensive questioning.
“I come before you this afternoon in full confidence you will be impartial and that you will look at the evidence and that you will conclude that I did not wittingly or recklessly mislead parliament,” Johnson said. “There’s not a shred of evidence to suggest I did. And I hope you will exonerate me and I think you should exonerate me.”
Nevertheless, He repeated his conviction that the panel has stepped beyond its remit by deciding that it is only necessary to prove that Johnson “recklessly” misled Parliament, rather than “deliberately,” which has been the norm ever since 1963.
Johnson Tries to Draw Sunak into Partygate Row (3:10 p.m.)
Johnson, who has been a thorn in the side of Sunak, sought to draw the current premier into the Partygate saga by suggesting that if Covid rules were broken in Downing Street, then it should have been “obvious” to the him as well.
“If it was obvious to me these events were contrary to the guidance and the rules, it must have been equally obvious to dozens of others, including the most senior officials in the government, most of them, like me, responsible for drawing up the rules,” Johnson said. “And it must have been obvious to others in the building, including the current prime minister.”
As chancellor at the time, Sunak’s office adjoined No 10.
Johnson Apologizes for Misleading Commons (2:55 p.m.)
Johnson said his comments on Partygate to Parliament were made “in good faith based on what I honestly knew and reasonably believed at the time.”
“I apologize for inadvertently misleading this House, but to say I did it recklessly or deliberately is completely untrue,” he told the panel.
He described 10 Downing Street as a “cramped, 18th-century townhouse” where it was hard to work efficiently and at speed” while maintaining social distancing. He said he and “others” did not believe it necessary or possible to have a 2-meter or 1-meter “electrified force-field around every human being” when restrictions started to be relaxed.
Sunak Wins Brexit Vote in Parliament (2:40 p.m.)
Rishi Sunak’s government won a parliamentary vote on a key part of his post-Brexit deal with the EU over Northern Ireland, with 515 votes in favor and 29 votes against.
The vote was on a mechanism called the Stormont Brake that allows the UK to block new EU laws from applying in Northern Ireland.
The breakdown of the vote wasn’t immediately available, but with the Democratic Unionist Party saying its 8 Members of Parliament would vote against the motion, that suggests that at most there were 21 Tory rebels.
Johnson Says He Did Not Lie to Parliament (2:20 pm)
After swearing to tell the truth on the bible, Johnson made his opening statement to the committee.
“I can say to you, hand on heart, that I did not lie to the house,” Johnson said, referring to his statements about ‘Partygate’ to the House of Commons. “I was confident not because there’s been some kind of cover-up. I was confident because I knew that is what I believed.”
Johnson then went on to say the privileges committee is only relying on incriminating evidence, which he called “manifestly unfair.”
Proceedings were suspended as the vote on the Northern Ireland vote began.
Johnson Hearing Begins (2:15 p.m.)
Harriet Harman, the Labour chair of the privileges committee, kicked off the hearing saying its purpose is to decide whether or not Boris Johnson misled the House of Commons, if he was in “contempt” of the House, and whether his comments were “intentional or reckless.”
This is a matter of great importance, Harman told the committee, and not a technical matter. She added her committee is not relying on material from the civil servant who undertook the original inquiry into Partygate, Sue Gray.
DUP Leader Says Deal Doesn’t Fix Key Problems (1:50 p.m.)
Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, says his party wants to return to the region’s power-sharing executive but can’t do so because post-Brexit issues still haven’t been resolved.
“We have not yet fully addressed this problem which is the continued application of EU law for the manufacturing of all goods in Northern Ireland,” Donaldson said in the House of Commons.
“We need to continue engaging with the government to get this right.”
Conservative MPs Criticize Sunak’s Brexit Deal (1:42 p.m.)
A cluster of staunchly pro-Brexit Conservative MPs have criticized Sunak’s deal over Northern Ireland ahead of the vote in Parliament, saying it doesn’t do enough to address their concerns.
Bill Cash, Mark Francois and John Redwood each joined Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party in opposing the deal.
“This is about the rule of law and constitutional law,” Cash said in the House of Commons. “All laws passed before we left in relation to the single market still apply to and subjugate the people of Northern Ireland to the EU, but not to the rest of the UK.”
Debate Begins on Sunak’s Brexit Deal (13:20 p.m.)
MPs in the House of Commons have started to debate the “Stormont Brake,” a key part of Sunak’s Brexit deal on Northern Ireland, ahead of this afternoon’s vote.
Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris kicked off for the government, with Sunak sitting alongside. The Stormont Brake ends the prospect of dynamic alignment with the EU, he said, adding that it “restores practical sovereignty to the people of the United Kingdom as a whole, and to the people of Northern Ireland in particular.”
There have been a few early critical voices on the Conservative side — but no major surprises so far, and no signs of a swelling rebellion. The opposition benches are relatively empty, save for MPs from Northern Ireland.
Tory Brexiteer Group Recommends Opposing Deal (11:35 a.m.)
The European Research Group — the main Brexiteer caucus within the ruling Conservatives — recommended to members that they should oppose the government in Wednesday’s vote.
Just over 30 ERG members were present at a meeting Wednesday morning in which the group’s officers made the recommendation, Chairman Mark Francois told reporters. “No one said we should not,” he said. “It remains a decision for each individual.”
The size of the attendance and the earlier remarks by Truss and Johnson suggest that Sunak — who has a 66-strong House of Commons working majority — may be left to rely on opposition votes to get his motion past the chamber.
Johnson Allies Take to Twitter (10:55 a.m.)
Boris Johnson allies have taken to Twitter this morning in what looks like a co-ordinated campaign, with one Tory MP Scott Benton, describing the hearing as a “circus.”
Eleven Conservative MPs including former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have publicly declared they will vote against Sunak’s Stormont Brake at around 2:15 p.m. Ministers urged them to think again.
“Johnson has got a choice,” Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker told reporters. He “can be remembered for the great acts of statecraft that he achieved or he can risk looking like a pound-shop Nigel Farage.”
Committee Publishes Lines of Inquiry (9:09 a.m.)
The House of Commons Committee of Privileges published a selection of evidence it’ll rely on in Wednesday’s hearing with Johnson. They include quotes by the former prime minister in public press conferences urging the public to follow the Covid-19 rules, photos of gatherings in Downing Street, and written evidence from officials.
Quotes singled out include written evidence from unnamed No. 10 officials describing one gathering as “4-5 deep” and another citing remarks allegedly made by Johnson himself about “probably the most unsocially distanced gathering in the UK right now.”
Truss Joins Johnson in Opposing New EU Agreement (8:50 a.m.)
Liz Truss — who was prime minister for just seven weeks between the tenures of Johnson and Sunak — said in a statement that she, too, will vote against the government’s new Brexit arrangements.
While the opposition of his two immediate predecessors is a blow to Sunak and presages a wider Tory rebellion, it’s not entirely unexpected, and the premier is still likely to win the vote because the main opposition Labour Party has said its Members of Parliament will back the government approach.
Johnson to Oppose Sunak’s Brexit Deal (Earlier)
Boris Johnson said he’ll vote against the government
on Wednesday because Sunak’s new deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements because of his assessment that either Northern Ireland would remain “captured by the EU legal order” or that the whole of the UK would be “unable properly to diverge” from the bloc’s rules.
“That is not acceptable,” Johnson said in a statement. He said the best approach would be to pursue legislation the government introduced into Parliament when he was prime minister that sought to override large parts of the Brexit deal he had reached with the EU.
Commons Set to Vote on Part of New Brexit Deal (Earlier)
The vote on Wednesday afternoon is not on the whole deal brokered by Sunak with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last month, but rather only on a key component, the so-called Stormont Brake, a proposed veto mechanism for Northern Ireland’s politicians to reject new EU rules.
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