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Latest 22 April 2022

The Prime Minister has brought our democracy into disrepute – it’s time to restore some pride

Trish Greenhalgh and Catherine Pope

Yesterday, Parliament did the right thing and referred the Prime Minister to the Committee of Privileges, which investigates wrongs done to or in Parliament, like lying.

But the Committee of Privileges has a limited scope and can only look at certain types of wrongdoing by an MP. There is another committee, called the Committee on Standards, which split off from the Committee of Privileges in 2012. Its role in relation to the conduct of MPs is to oversee the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is Kathryn Stone. It was her report that recommended, for example, that Owen Paterson be suspended from the House of Commons for a month. She looks at the conduct of MPs generally and their compliance with the MPs’ Code of Conduct.

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This code states: “Members shall never undertake any action which would cause significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole, or of its Members generally.”

If she were to find that there had been a serious breach of the Code, it would result in a referral to the Committee on Standards. A decision by that Committee to suspend an MP for 10 sitting days or 14 calendar days would, unless the Commons overruled it (and we don’t think that has ever happened), trigger a legal process called a recall process. This would involve a petition being placed before that MP’s constituents, and if more than 10 per cent of eligible registered voters signed that petition, their MP would lose his seat, and there would be a by-election.

This morning, two Good Law Project supporters wrote to Ms Stone, with our legal assistance, asking her to investigate Boris Johnson for a breach of the MPs’ Code of Conduct. Trish and Cathy are two people whose elderly parents died alone during the pandemic.

Their story is heart-breaking: “We did not visit our parents for many months because we followed the restrictions that were in force at the time. We were not able to be with them when they were dying. We followed the rules. Nothing will bring back the many missed precious visits to our loved ones. Nothing will compensate them for the loneliness they endured in their final months and hours of life.”

They point out that Boris Johnson is the first British Prime Minister to have committed a criminal offence while in office. They add: “We believe that our elected representatives have a duty to behave honestly, honourably and with integrity. When they do not, they should face sanction so as to restore trust in our public institutions.

“It is damaging to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons that any Member should have been in breach of serious and extremely onerous restrictions imposed by Parliament to protect the public in a time of crisis. It is also damaging… that a Member, having breached those restrictions, should fail to acknowledge that breach for almost two years after the event, and should show a serious lack of honesty and candour in relation to that issue…”

Nothing could be clearer to us. The country deserves a Prime Minister we can look up to, not look down at. We stand alongside Trish and Cathy in calling for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to open an investigation into the Prime Minister’s conduct.

Read Trish and Cathy’s full letter here.

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Update: we received a response to Trish and Cathy’s letter on 22/04/2022. It reads:

Dear Professor Greenhalgh and Professor Pope

Thank you for your letter to the Commissioner. I would like to start by offering my condolences on the loss of your relatives.

I would like to assure you that the Commissioner is aware of the matter that you have raised, which is currently under investigation by the Metropolitan Police Service. Once the investigation is complete, she will consider the information that is available and, at that stage, decide whether the matter falls within her remit as set out by the Code and if so, whether she should start an inquiry.

Although the Commissioner will not contact you directly to inform you whether she has decided to start an investigation, in the event an inquiry is opened she will publish the details here.