Boris Johnson’s Partygate fine for breaking lockdown rules is the “most severe constitutional crisis involving a prime minister”, a leading historian has said.
History of government expert Lord Hennessy told the BBC that Johnson had “broken the law”, “misled Parliament” and “shredded the ministerial code”.
Speaking to Broadcasting House on Radio 4, the cross-bench peer said: “I think we’re in the most severe constitutional crisis involving a prime minister that I can remember.”
He revealed that, when Johnson and Rishi Sunak were fined on Tuesday, he recorded in his diary that “Tuesday 12 April 2022 will be forever remembered as a dark bleak day for public and political life” and the prime minister had become “the great debaser in modern times of decency in public and political life, and of our constitutional conventions”.
‘Complete and utter disdain’
Lord Hennessy wrote: “The prime minister sealed his place in British history as the first lawbreaker to have occupied the premiership.”
He added that Johnson had turned his office into “an adventure playground for his narcissistic vanity” and accused him of having “broken the law, misled Parliament and has in effect shredded the ministerial code” when he “should be the guardian of the code”.
The historian said Johnson’s refusal to resign demonstrated “complete and utter disdain for the decency of our constitutional conventions”.
He said: “The Queen’s First Minister is now beyond doubt a rogue prime minister, unworthy of her, her Parliament, her people, and her kingdom.
“I cannot remember a day when I have been more fearful for the well-being of the constitution.
“It’s an assault on not just the decent state of mind which keeps our society open and clean but also on the institutions of the state.
“If he’s not prepared to do the decent thing… why should anybody else behave decently and properly? The whole decency of our public life turns on this question.”
Labour has called Johnson’s involvement in the Partygate scandal “indefensible” as fresh allegations emerged about his conduct.
The Sunday Times said Johnson will deliver a statement when MPs return to the Commons on Tuesday, where he will not deny wrongdoing but will point towards the wider context, including the war in Ukraine.
But the newspaper also revealed fresh claims that Johnson was not only present at a leaving do for his former press chief but that he led the celebrations.
The Sunday Times reported the prime minister’s official photographer had captured photographs of Johnson holding a beer at the gathering, and Sunak with a soft drink.
But Johnson is understood to have been present at at least six of the 12 events being investigated by the Metropolitan Police for breaking Covid rules, and is braced for more fines potentially to come.
One of those included in Operation Hillman is a leaving do for the former director of communications at No 10, Lee Cain, on November 13 2020.
A source suggested to the Sunday Times this had started as the press office having drinks to finish off the week, but turned into a party once the prime minister arrived, poured drinks and made a speech.
The newspaper said a No 10 source did not deny the characterisation of the gathering, but denied Johnson was the instigator.