Boris Johnson Does a Trump in His Resignation From Parliament

Photograph Source: U.K. Prime Minister – OGL 3

Commentators have noted affinities between Boris “BoJo” Johnson and Donald Trump.

These include a chronic incapacity to be truthful and honest, permanent hucksterism and opportunism, a thirst for showmanship and self-promotion, possessing a huge self-regard and sense of entitlement coupled with an inability to value others and their interests (relationships with others have tended to be purely instrumental, loyalty is always expected from others but hardly reciprocated), conveying constantly the impression that rule-following is a burden to be avoided, having a propensity always to play the victim while blaming others for their mistakes– all these culminating in wildly irresponsible attitudes to governing and government. To mention one instance, the serious nepotism characterizing both the Trump and BoJo administrations, the former enveloped by a coterie of family members, the latter favouring cronies and donors (critics called it a “chumocracy”).

BoJo  has displayed most of these attributes in recent months, from his testy petulance throughout his appearance for nearly 4 hours in late March 2023 before the UK parliament’s Privileges Committee, over whether he had intentionally misled MPs during the still-continuing Partygate scandal and persisting up to his sudden resignation as an MP last week.

BoJo jumped before he was pushed.

The Privileges Committee has yet to release its final report, but it was sent to BoJo in advance for him to prepare a response. It is said that the 7-member committee (with Tories in the majority) was unanimous in its finding that BoJo had deliberately misled the House over Partygate.

Procedurally, the next step is for the final report to be sent to the House of Commons for a vote to sanction BoJo. A widely expected punishment to suspend BoJo from parliament for more than 10 days could lead his constituents to recall him in order to trigger a by-election which he was expected to lose since he has a narrow 7,000 vote majority.

Given his resignation BoJo can’t now be sanctioned, though the House could ask the Speaker to withdraw the privileges and courtesies normally extended to its ex-members.

BoJo saw the writing on the wall and abandoned his greater-London seat with a scathing resignation statement accusing the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, of overseeing a government that is “not properly Conservative”, as well as criticizing the Partygate investigation.

True to form, BoJo said he was the victim of a “witch-hunt”, a “kangaroo court” and “a political hit job”, even though the Privileges Committee has a Tory majority and took over a year to conduct its investigation.

In his March appearance before the Privileges Committee BoJo said he was the victim of proceedings lacking legitimacy (despite the committee having its brief given by the House) and said superciliously to the committee that he would regard it as open-minded and unbiased only if it absolved him.

BoJo was followed immediately in his resignation by those of his loyalists Nadine Dorries and Nigel Adams. Triple by-elections in short order will be a test for Sunak, especially since his disunited party resembles a sack full of rats gnawing each other to death.

Prime Ministers who resign are allowed the courtesy of submitting an honours list for vetting by the appropriate committees. These honours, known in common parlance as “gongs”, were used by BoJo to reward cronies, enablers, and flunkeys, some of whom were key Partygate protagonists.

BoJo’s senior adviser and principal organizer of parties, Martin Reynolds (aka “Party Marty”), got a knighthood under the dispensation of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, leading to jests in social media about the plug needing to be pulled on Party Marty instead.

The DJ for the party the night before the funeral of Prince Philip, Shelley Williams-Walker, was made a dame.

Gongs of lower orders were handed to those who assisted Party Marty in his role as orchestrater of Downing Street festivities. Several, like BoJo, were found guilty of breaching Covid lockdown restrictions and fined accordingly.

Even BoJo’s hairdresser received a gong, though why no one knows, since BoJo’s trademark hairdo is a dandruff-infested mess.

The hopelessly inept former home secretary/interior minister Priti “Vacant” Patel was made a dame and displayed her characteristically poor judgment when she thanked BoJo by calling him a “political Titan”.

The equally incompetent former Leader of the House and the now scrapped position of Minister of Brexit Opportunities (sic), Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is famous for dressing like an undertaker, received a knighthood.

A conundrum lies at the heart of BoJo’s tawdry honours list.

During Privileges Committee proceedings BoJo threw his advisers and spin doctors under the proverbial bus by saying he exercised no independent powers of judgment and relied entirely on their advice regarding the legal status of the Downing Street parties. Alas for him, BoJo was photographed glass in hand at several of these, and is reported to have joked at one that “This is the most unsocially distanced party in the UK right now”.

BoJo in effect blamed Party Marty and his assistants for his downfall, and yet gave them gongs in his resignation list. If they brought BoJo down why the gongs?

As always, BoJo was having it both ways.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.