Were Aesop alive he might construct a fable about Boris Johnson, to add to the one about the little boy who cried wolf. It would be about the sleazy, narcissistic lout who lied so much that on the rare occasion he told the truth, no-one believed him. I’m not referring to Johnson’s appearance before the House of Commons Privileges Committee on 22 March, when we can confidently assume he remained true to form: lying about parties he didn’t know were parties because officials who weren’t officials told him they were actually part of the nation’s efforts to defeat Covid-19 (or some equally incredible, ocean-going horseshit). I refer to the claim he made last October, after the pop-up premiership of Liz Truss, that he had over a hundred supporters were he to stand in the ensuing leadership contest.

At the time, I didn’t believe it, for two reasons. First, I conditioned myself decades ago, based on my own experience, not to believe a word Johnson utters on any subject. Second, while everyone knows there’re people of questionable sanity in the parliamentary Conservative party who’d put their head in a mincer if Johnson asked them to, I couldn’t believe there’d be over a hundred, for pity’s sake. Could so many really be so morally defective, and so politically obtuse, as to want this self-obsessed charlatan back guiding the fortunes of the nation, so soon after most of his administration walked out and forced him to resign?

Well, apparently this was that rare moment when Johnson – who lied at school, lied at university, lied to his employers, lied to his constituents, lied to colleagues and appears likely to have lied to his various wives, mistresses and concubines – was actually telling the truth. I asked the Chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady to assure me that this was just another lie: but the impeccably honest Sir Graham confided it was not, and later shared this astonishing truth with the world. So we’re not talking here about just “Mad Nad” Dorries and the Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg, both now on the back benches after their conspicuous contributions to the worst administration in British history; we’re talking about dozens of others whose stupidity, capriciousness and contempt for the public is such that they actively wanted Johnson back in charge.

That only 22 Tory MPs backed the Johnson line suggests his colleagues have had enough of him

Those longing for his restoration have since been seriously reduced in numbers. Only around a fifth of those who craved his return in October could bring themselves to vote against Rishi Sunak’s deal to ease problems between Britain and the EU over Northern Ireland. Johnson hated that plan because it exposed yet more of his lies, that his own Brexit deal was “oven ready”, and that they’d be no trade border in the Irish Sea. That only 22 Tory MPs (including the charlatan himself) backed the Johnson line suggests his colleagues have had enough of him. And it’s not just because these former acolytes have woken up to his weaponisation of Conservative politics to further his own ends, but also because Rishi Sunak is winning collective respect. It’s a long way from victory at the next election, but at least the party is no longer heading in entirely the wrong direction.

The Windsor Framework vote in late March diminished Johnson; and the same day he cut a distasteful figure in the Commons. He may yet come to regret his ostenttious taking of the oath on the Bible when appearing before the Privileges Committee, for it renders him liable to prosecution under the 1911 Perjury Act if he lied. If I were Harriet Harman KC, not to mention Sir Keir Starmer KC and various other distinguished Labour lawyers, I’d be poring over every last syllable of that evidence to identify any untruth and refer it to the Crown Prosecution Service. Various things Johnson stated as fact differ from what others in Downing Street have said. Do we really believe – does the committee really believe – that, for example, he walked past a party of over 40 people en route to his flat and didn’t see or hear it? And did he genuinely think it was fine for his wife and her interior decorator to be at an illegal party? I’d start from there, and make an early visit to Dominic Cummings.

The committee has already issued a report mentioning four occasions when Johnson misled [sic] the Commons by issuing denials he knew to be false. He did not withdraw these lies under oath. It must be unlikely then, when it reports finally, that the committee will change its mind and conclude it was wrong all along: that Johnson’s performance on 22 March was a masterpiece of clarity, truth and decency. Were that to happen the whole Commons committee system would be in peril, for such a judgment could only be reached by ignoring the evidence and being unashamedly political. Such a thing ended the political career of Owen Paterson in 2021, when Johnson’s MPs refused to let him close the disciplinary system down – which he was attempting to do not so much to protect Paterson, but to protect himself. Historians will come to see that moment as the beginning of the end of his premiership.

Sunak has said a Commons vote on Johnson’s punishment will not be whipped. But I’m putting the cart before the horse: what will that punishment be? The offence, if decreed, would be lying to the House. Almost 60 years to the day before Johnson entertained the privileges committee with his remarkable tale of how everything bad in his administration was always the fault of somebody else, Jack Profumo told his fellow MPs he’d never had carnal knowledge of Christine Keeler. It was a lie; Jack resigned; and spent the next 40 years of his highly distinguished life atoning with his relentless charity work at Toynbee Hall, where the beneficiaries of his dedication came to see him as a living god, and quite right too. Jack was a middle-ranking minister outside the cabinet when he transgressed: Johnson was the late Queen’s First Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and leader of his – obviously morally diminished – party.

Those points need to be considered when the committee makes its recommendations on what should be done with Johnson, for his fault is exponentially worse. Some sophisticates contend that he must not be given a martyrdom: a conclusion that he lied, and a suspension from the Commons for less than the 10 days, which would make him eligible for a recall petition and a by-election, would, they feel, sufficiently humiliate him and leave him to fester on the back benches. But that contains too many false assumptions. To be humiliated requires a sense of shame, something Johnson demonstrably lacks. Rather, he’d dismiss a suspension of nine days or less as a vindication – a term he and his equally corrupt toadies are already bandying about – and proof that his enemies’ “kangaroo court” could pin nothing serious on him. He would then agitate against Sunak from the back benches, doing all he could to ensure his party loses the election unless it restores him to power. Despite the decline in his support, his hypnotising effect on some of his party’s moronic fringe remains a stultifying rebuke to our education system. Cronies are already reported to be raising money and organising for his “comeback”. So long as Johnson remains in parliament, he remains dangerous, divisive, disruptive and a destructive – to his party and to his nation. He has to go.

In any other context, an ex-minister – never mind an ex-prime minister – found to have lied would not need to be thrown out. He would, as Jack Profumo did, resign and disappear to do good works and seek forgiveness. But then, Jack was not the centre of his own universe, and Johnson is. Aesop’s new fable, you’ll recall, would be about a narcissist, one who needs to be treated accordingly. If he’s not punished severely, it would merely encourage other ministers to lie promiscuously, knowing they’d get away with it. Our public life, already a joke, would become anarchic. The committee and then the Commons need to do the political equivalent of burying Johnson face down under two yards of concrete with a stake through what passes for his heart. And as for the orifice in which you shove the clove of garlic, you choose.

Simon Heffer is a historian, columnist for the Telegraph and Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham

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