LONDON — Boris Johnson may run again for prime minister of Britain after Liz Truss’s resignation last week, despite being under investigation over claims he intentionally misled Parliament — an inquiry that could see him suspended or even ousted from politics entirely.
Johnson was forced to resign as prime minister in July following an avalanche of resignations by members of his cabinet, who said they could no longer support a leader so entrenched in scandals — most notably “Partygate,” a series of gatherings held at Downing Street and other government buildings as Johnson’s government asked Britons not to socialize amid stringent coronavirus lockdowns.
After reports emerged of the gatherings, Johnson repeatedly told Parliament that his office had followed the coronavirus lockdown guidance, saying in December 2021: “The guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.” In January, Johnson apologized in Parliament, admitting he had attended one “bring your own booze” event in Downing Street.
Two major government investigations were opened into the gatherings and Johnson’s remarks: One from the senior civil servant Sue Gray, and another from the House of Commons Privileges Committee. Gray concluded that there was “a serious failure” of leadership in Johnson’s government, while the parliamentary committee is expected to hear evidence and compile a report in late autumn or winter this year.
The London Metropolitan Police also opened an investigation, announcing in April that Johnson, his wife, Carrie, and former finance minister Rishi Sunak had broken lockdown rules and had to pay a $65 fine. (Sunak on Sunday announced he is running for prime minister.)
The mandate of the committee — made up of four lawmakers from the Conservative Party, two from the opposition Labour Party and one from the Scottish National Party — is to investigate allegations that a lawmaker has committed contempt of Parliament.
After an investigation, they could recommend sanctions on the lawmaker to members of Parliament, who would decide whether to impose them.
Sanctions could include suspending Johnson or removing him from Parliament. That could mean he would once again be forced to resign as prime minister should he run and be reinstalled.
Ministers who knowingly mislead the House of Commons are usually expected to resign, according to government documentation.
It remains uncertain whether Johnson will get the backing he needs to make the ballot: Candidates must collect 100 nominations from fellow lawmakers by 2 p.m. Monday to stand a chance. If more than one contender reaches the requirement, members of Parliament will select two to be put to an online vote by party members, with the results expected Oct. 28.
Dominic Raab, who served as deputy prime minister and foreign secretary under Johnson, told BBC radio Saturday that while he respects Johnson, he is hesitant about the timing of his potential return to office, given that the committee is set to hear evidence for its investigation next month.
“There’s going to be oral testimony from people from Number 10,” Raab said. “I just can’t see in practice how the new prime minister, in office latest next Friday, could give the country the attention, the focus that it needs and at the same time be giving testimony and be answering all of those questions.”
Meanwhile, Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, slammed the prospect of Johnson’s return.
“To go from the kamikaze budget under Liz Truss back to a man that his own party has declared is unfit for office, is the most powerful argument you could possibly have for a general election,” he said Friday.
The U.K.'s new prime minister
The latest: In his first speech as British prime minister, Rishi Sunak warned his country that tough economic times — and tough decisions — were ahead. The day also marked the end of Liz Truss’s tenure as Britain’s shortest-serving prime minister, after just 49 days in office.
Who is Rishi Sunak?: He competed against Truss to lead Britain’s Conservative Party after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his scandal-induced resignation in July. Loyalists point out that his candidacy received the most support from his parliamentary colleagues. And many of his economic ideas have turned out to be prescient, those backers say.
Why did Liz Truss resign?: Truss came to office with a vision for a low-tax, small government state. Her financial plan tanked the British economy and politicians from the ruling Conservative Party called on her to quit. According to new polling, only 10 percent of the country viewed Truss favorably.