Michael Gove has said that “life moves on” after Boris Johnson’s resignation as an MP, as ministers tried once again to shift attention from an embittered former leader showing little sign of wanting to leave parliament quietly.
Gove, the UK communities and housing secretary, used a morning broadcast round to stress what he said were the “significant contributions that Boris made”, while firmly presenting him as a figure now in the Conservatives’ past.
Gove was asked if he agreed that Johnson, who announced on Friday evening he was stepping down as an MP to pre-empt a damning verdict from the Commons privileges committee into whether he misled parliament over Covid-era parties, should “shut up and go away”, the verdict of one Tory MP.
“I’ve given Boris advice in the past,” Gove told Sky News. “He hasn’t always necessarily followed my advice, so I’ll refrain from offering any advice to him now except to say today, he’s made a decision to stand down. That’s an individual decision for him, but the work of government goes on.”
In a separate interview, on BBC One’s Breakfast, Gove offered a similar view when asked if this was the last UK politics had seen of the former prime minister.
“Boris’s decision to step down means that he’s no longer a member of parliament, and life moves on,” Gove said. “As for Boris’s future, that will be a matter for him.”
Johnson has made plain his intention to get his point of view across even outside parliament, complaining to the Times on Monday about what he said was Cabinet Office obstruction over another investigation, the official inquiry into the Covid pandemic.
The government is seeking to avoid passing unedited WhatsApp messages and diaries by Johnson to the inquiry, which Johnson has offered to pass on himself.
He told the paper the Cabinet Office was “foot-dragging” and wasting “public time and money”, adding: “The Cabinet Office has blocked me from directly sharing unredacted material with the inquiry – despite my repeated attempts to do so.
The privileges committee, which has a Tory majority and Labour chair, was due to meet on Monday morning to finalise its report into whether Johnson deliberately misled parliament when he said there had been no lockdown-breaching gatherings.
It is expected to recommend a suspension for Johnson of 10 days or greater, which would have been enough to trigger a possible recall petition by his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, which Johnson could well have lost.
The full report could be made public as soon as Wednesday, with its findings and any recommended punishment then voted on by MPs.
Asked if he might vote to endorse the conclusions, Gove told Sky: “I’ll have to read the report. Like every member of parliament, all of us will have the opportunity to vote according to our judgment on this matter.”
He did, however, dispute the complaints of Johnson and his supporters that the committee was biased against the former prime minister.
“Boris will have his own recollection,” Gove said. “The critical thing is, it’s a properly constituted committee of the House of Commons with distinguished and experienced MPs on it. Neither of us have yet read the report, so we’ll have to wait and see and pass judgment on it later. But no, I wouldn’t describe the committee as a kangaroo court, not at all.”
Asked if Johnson could make a comeback, Gove replied: “Boris is someone who, in my observation, likes to keep his options open. It would be a foolish person who could claim they have predicted every twist and turn in Boris’s political career with absolute accuracy. So I don’t know what’s in his mind.”
Gove worked closely with Johnson in government, but had his differences with the former PM – most notably when he unexpectedly decided to stand against him for the Conservative leadership when David Cameron stood down in 2016, prompting Johnson to abandon his own bid.
Asked if he had, politically speaking, stabbed Johnson in the back, Gove said he had merely “offered a judgment at various critical points”.