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Boris Johnson’s bombshell exit from Parliament leaves UK politics reeling

Former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson left chaos in his wake Saturday after quitting Parliament with a blast at fellow lawmakers he accused of ousting him in a “witch hunt.”
As opponents jeered, the Conservative government absorbed the shock of yet another Johnson earth-quake, while a band of loyal supporters insisted Britain’s divisive ex-leader could still make a comeback.
Less than a year after he was forced out as prime minister by his own Conservative Party, Johnson unex-pectedly stepped down as a lawmaker late Friday — “at least for now,” he said in a self-justifying resig-nation statement.
Johnson quit after being told he will be sanctioned for misleading Parliament over “partygate,” a series of rule-breaking gatherings in the prime minister’s office during the coronavirus pandemic. Johnson was among scores of people fined by police over late-night soirees, boozy parties and “wine time Fridays” that broke restrictions the government had imposed on the country.
Johnson has acknowledged misleading Parliament when he assured lawmakers that no rules had been broken, but he said he didn’t do so deliberately, genuinely believing the gatherings were legitimate work events.
A standards committee investigating him appears to see things differently. Johnson quit after receiving the report of the Privileges Committee, which has not yet been made public. Johnson faced suspension from the House of Commons if the committee found he had lied deliberately.
Johnson, 58, called the committee “a kangaroo court” that was determined to “drive me out of Parlia-ment.”
“Their purpose from the beginning has been to find me guilty, regardless of the facts,” Johnson said.
The committee, which has a majority Conservative membership, said Johnson had “impugned the integ-rity” of the House of Commons with his attack. It said it would meet Monday “to conclude the inquiry and to publish its report promptly.”
Johnson is a charismatic and erratic figure whose career has seen a series of scandals and comebacks. The rumpled, Latin-spouting populist with a mop of blond hair has held major offices but also spent periods on the political sidelines before Britain’s exit from the European Union propelled him to the top.
A champion of Brexit, Johnson led the Conservatives to a landslide victory in 2019 and took Britain out of the EU the following year. But he became mired in scandals over his ethics and judgment, and was forced out as prime minister by his own party in mid-2022.
By quitting Parliament, he avoids a suspension that could have seen him ousted from his Commons seat by his constituents, leaving him free to run for Parliament again in future. His resignation statement suggested he was mulling that option. It was highly critical of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who served as Treasury chief in Johnson’s government before jumping ship with many other colleagues in July 2022 — resignations that forced Johnson out as prime minister.
Conservative poll ratings went into decline during the turbulent final months of Johnson’s term and have not recovered. Opinion polls regularly put the opposition Labour Party 20 points or more ahead. A na-tional election must be held by the end of 2024.
“Just a few years after winning the biggest majority in almost half a century, that majority is now clearly at risk,” Johnson said in a statement that sounded like a leadership pitch. “Our party needs urgently to recapture its sense of momentum and its belief in what this country can do.”
Johnson allies expressed hope that the former prime minister was not finished. Conservative lawmaker John Redwood said Johnson “has made it very clear that he doesn’t regard this as the end of his in-volvement in British politics.”
But many others questioned whether a politician who has often seemed to defy political gravity could make yet another comeback.
Will Walden, who worked for Johnson when he was mayor of London and U.K. foreign secretary, said the former prime minister quit because he had “seen the writing on the wall.”
“I think the most important thing that people need to understand this morning is there is only one thing driving Boris and that is that he likes to win, or at least not to lose,” Walden told the BBC. “This report clearly threatened to change all that.”
Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, said Johnson often drew inspira-tion from his political hero, Winston Churchill, who led Britain to victory in World War II only to be ousted from power in 1945 — and then to return to office several years later.
“I believe that he thinks that he can spend some time in … the wilderness before the Conservative Party and the country calls upon him once again in its hour of need,” Bale said.
“Frankly, I think that is unlikely. I think partygate has ensured that he is toxic as far as many voters are concerned. And I think the way he has behaved over the last two or three days — and some people will say over the last two or three years — probably means that most of his colleagues would rather he disap-peared in a puff of smoke.” –Net


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