The Prime Minister indulged in a public slanging match over Johnson’s bid to give peerages to cheerleaders including Nadine Dorries.
It came as loved ones of the 227,000 people who died with Covid get ready to hear how Tory austerity left the country lethally unprepared for the outbreak.
The Covid Inquiry into the Government’s response to the pandemic has its first evidence session today, having only been announced by Johnson in May 2021 after immense pressure for answers from those hit hardest.
It was not officially launched until June last year – days after Covid Bereaved Families for Justice threatened legal action as the then-PM dragged his feet. The first preliminary hearings began last October. But instead of quietly reflecting on his Government’s chaotic record, Mr Sunak launched open warfare on his disgraced former Downing Street neighbour.
Ian Vogler / Daily Mirror)
The PM claimed Johnson had urged him to bend rules to give places in the House of Lords to sitting MPs Ms Dorries, Alok Sharma and Nigel Adams. Johnson had wanted Mr Sunak to find a way for the three to take up peerages after stepping down as MPs at the next election, instead of sooner. But the House of Lords Appointments Commission said they would have to do so within six months of vetting.
Mr Sunak said: “ Boris Johnson asked me to do something that I wasn’t prepared to do, because I didn’t think it was right. That was to either overrule the [HOLAC] committee or to make promises to people. Now, I wasn’t prepared to do that. I didn’t think it was right and if people don’t like that, then tough.”
Johnson hit back: “ Rishi Sunak is talking rubbish. To honour these peerages it was not necessary to overrule HOLAC, simply to ask them to renew their vetting, a mere formality.” Lib Dem MP Sarah Olney said: “The Tories are fighting like rats in a sack while the public worry about the cost of living crisis and getting answers from the Covid inquiry.
“This Government is so mired in Conservative psychodrama that they are neglecting the real issues that matter to people.”
When Downing Street published Johnson’s resignation honours list on Friday, his three close allies were not on it. Hours later he announced he would stand down as an MP.
It came as the Commons Privileges Committee investigating whether he lied to Parliament over Partygate was set to find he had broken the rules and recommend a suspension that could trigger a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency. Mr Adams and Ms Dorries also said they were quitting, triggering three by-elections for the PM as his party trails in the polls.
The Privileges Committee is expected to publish its report into the ex-PM as soon as today. Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove suggested the Tories could help Johnson avoid punishment, telling Sky News: “All of us will have the opportunity to vote according to our judgement on this matter.”
But Penny Mordaunt took a thinly veiled swipe at Johnson and his allies for trying to claim the probe was a stitch-up. The Commons leader said: “We have to be strong about calling out people who are attacking institutions, attacking the House as it carries out its work, who are attacking the media.”