An angry and aggrieved former leader attacks the institutions he once led for accusing him of flouting the rules and lying about it. His allies incite supporters against what they call a witch hunt. One country watches nervously, worried that this outlandish, rule-breaking figure could do lasting damage.
There are obvious parallels in the political turmoil rocking Britain and the United States, but also stark differences: Former President Donald J. Trump faces federal criminal charges, while Boris Johnson was tried for party cheating. And yet Britain’s Conservative Party has regularly clashed with Johnson, while the Republican Party remains largely a slave to Trump.
Conservative lawmakers in Britain form the majority in a committee that found that Mr Johnson, a former prime minister, had deliberately misled Parliament about lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street during the coronavirus pandemic. Mr Johnson’s conduct, they said, would have warranted a 90-day suspension from the House of Commons had he not preemptively resigned his seat in protest last week.
On Monday, the House of Commons will vote on whether to accept or reject the committee’s conclusions. The government said it will not pressure Conservative lawmakers to vote one way or the other. That sets up a potential rejection of Johnson by his party that could go well beyond the token number of House Republican lawmakers who voted to impeach Trump in 2019 and 2021.
Even before Monday’s vote, the condemnation of Johnson by his conservative colleagues on the privileges committee was startling. Not only was it a stinging rebuke of a popular, if de facto challenged, politician, it was also a clarion call for the restoration of truth as the fundamental principle of a democracy.
“The result is much worse than expected,” said Kim Darroch, a former British ambassador to Washington, who said the committee was expected to recommend a maximum 30-day suspension. “His severity suggests that the committee had a broader purpose in its decision: to reaffirm the fundamental importance of truth in British politics.”
“There is one interpretation of the situation in the US,” Mr. Darroch said, pointing to the fierce debates over the truth in American political discourse.
While some Republicans, such as former Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, have criticized Trump for his misstatements, many more have remained silent, implicitly or explicitly accepting his false claim that he won the election in 2020. presidential election, for example.
So far, the multiple accusations against Trump have yet to stop most Republicans from supporting him. His arraignment this week on charges of mishandling classified documents and obstruction of justice prompted fresh cries from Republican leaders like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy that President Biden was “arming” the Justice Department to go after the political enemies of his.
Mr. Johnson has leveled similar charges against the committee. In a scathing statement after his report was made public, he said: “This decision means that no MP is free from vendetta or ouster on trumped-up charges by a small minority who want to see him out of the House of Commons. ”.
The language was classic Trump, albeit with an English accent. The committee’s report, Mr Johnson declared, was “garbage”, “disrupted” and a “complete load of guts”.
He accused a senior Tory committee member, Bernard Jenkin, of breaching lockdown rules by attending a gathering to celebrate a birthday. And she veered into dark personal taunts, describing one of the report’s claims as “an argument so well-worn that it belongs in one of Bernard Jenkin’s nudist colonies.”
“This is all straight out of the Trump playbook,” said Frank Luntz, an American political strategist, noting that Trump had influenced the language of other world leaders. “He is condemning the messenger, similar to Trump in the United States, Netanyahu in Israel and Bolsonaro in Brazil.”
Mr Luntz, who knew Mr Johnson when they were students at Oxford University, said he was surprised that Mr Johnson had resorted to such language. Luntz has long resisted comparisons of Johnson and Trump, saying that “Boris has written more books than Trump has read.”
But having spent two days in Parliament this week, Luntz said his overriding feeling was that Johnson had little support and that most Conservatives simply wanted the drama behind them.
Very few conservatives have accepted Johnson’s cry for political revenge. Many pointed out that not a single lawmaker tried to block his referral to the privileges committee in April 2022, when doubts about the veracity of his party statements to Parliament had reached a crescendo.
The committee reflects the party balance in the House, with four members from the Conservatives, two from the opposition Labor Party and one from the Scottish National Party. By tradition, it is chaired by a lawmaker from the main opposition party, in this case Harriet Harman, whom Johnson accused of having the “sole political objective of finding me guilty and expelling me from Parliament.”
Unlike Trump, whose personal attacks often go unanswered, the committee lashed out at Johnson. He accused him of “challenging the committee and thereby undermining the democratic process of the House” and “being complicit in the committee’s campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation.” He plans a special report on Mr. Johnson’s behavior during the investigation.
While Johnson won a landslide for conservatives less than four years ago, and remains popular in some conservative districts, he has never had the kind of iron grip on the party that Trump has.
In September 2019, conservative rebels staged an insurrection, blocking their plan to withdraw from the European Union without a deal with Brussels. Last summer, Johnson was forced to step down as prime minister after members of his government resigned outright, amid allegations about Downing Street parties and sexual misconduct by a senior Conservative official.
But it wasn’t until this week that Johnson faced a reckoning for what his critics say is a career — first as a journalist and then as a politician — based on twisting the facts and blithely ignoring the rules. For those who have known Mr. Johnson for a long time, the sense of satisfaction was palpable.
“It’s the first time they’ve finally caught him,” said Sonia Purnell, who worked with Johnson at The Daily Telegraph’s Brussels bureau in the 1990s and wrote a critical biography of him. “Had he not been caught today, it would have been a death blow to British democracy.”