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June 16, 2023updated 21 Sep 2023 1:39pm

Boris Johnson joins Daily Mail as weekly columnist

The Mail says there is no evidence Boris Johnson lied to parliament.

By Dominic Ponsford

Boris Johnson has signed up as a columnist with the Daily Mail.

In a leader column on Friday, published before the news broke, the title said there was no evidence Johnson had knowingly misled Parliament (as the Commons Privileges Committee has found).

The first post-Parliament job for Johnson comes a week after his resignation as an MP. The former Prime Minister will write a weekly column for the Saturday edition of the Mail.

With an average ABC-audited circulation of 1.3 million, the Daily Mail on Saturday is the most-read print outlet in the UK.

Johnson was previously paid £275,000 a year by the Daily Telegraph for a weekly column which he paused when he became foreign secretary and then stopped when he became prime minister.

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Johnson said of his new column: “It is going to be completely unexpurgated stuff, I will obviously try to do as little politics as possible unless I absolutely have to.”

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Johnson’s first column is due to be published at 5pm on Friday 16 June on Mail Online.

The Daily Telegraph said in a leader column that Johnson has not come out of the Partygate affair well. And, writing in the Telegraph, Spectator editor Fraser Nelson criticised Johnson on Thursday 15 June saying: “It’s easy to forget that he was forced out of Number 10 not by a technicality or witch hunt, but because he ran a court of chaos under which his own MPs were ultimately unwilling to serve.

“He lives in a world of plausible deniability, using a combination of his intelligence and his clownishness to play dumb when it suits him. He can sense when things are going on that he’d best not know about. He knows not to ask and those around him know not to tell. The culture under Dominic Cummings, then his chief adviser, was one of seeing him as a ‘wonky shopping trolley’ that was supposed to go in whatever direction they pushed it but sometimes didn’t. His hands-off style worked when he did my job editing The Spectator and when he was London mayor. But not in Number 10.

“That’s why he failed as prime minister. His aloofness doesn’t diminish his culpability; in many ways, it makes things worse. His lack of grip meant his government descended into a disgraceful shambles that squandered his historic election victory.”

Johnson’s column was teased on today’s Daily Mail front page with the silhouette of an “erudite new columnist who will be required reading in Westminster”.

In its leader column today, the Daily Mail described the Commons Privileges Committee report which prompted Johnson’s resignation as “a risible exercise in bias and hypocrisy”.

It said: “This pseudo-judicial tribunal was so stacked with his opponents – in some cases implacable enemies – there was never a chance of an impartial hearing.

“Indeed the only surprise about this kangaroo court’s verdict yesterday on the ex-prime minister and Partygate is that chairman Harriet Harman didn’t put on a black cap while delivering it.”

The Mail claimed there was “no smoking gun of evidence” to suggest Johnson knowingly misled Parliament “merely a tissue of presumption and innuendo”.

A spokesman for the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) said Johnson had broken government rules by failing to adequately consult them about his new job.

An Acoba spokesperson said: “The Ministerial Code states that ministers must ensure that no new appointments are announced, or taken up, before the committee has been able to provide its advice.

“An application received 30 mins before an appointment is announced is a clear breach.

“We have written to Mr Johnson for an explanation and will publish correspondence in due course, in line with our policy of transparency.”

Update 21 September from PA Media: No further action will be taken against Johnson for his breach of the Ministerial Code, with Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden saying it would be “disproportionate”.

In a letter to Acoba published on Thursday, Dowden said the Cabinet Office had accepted the watchdog’s assessment that the “risk surrounding media appointments are limited” and that they were “typically subject to the conditions that former ministers are already required to abide by” following their exit from high office.

“I therefore also accept that it would be disproportionate to undertake further action in these circumstances other than the public exchange of such correspondence (noting that there was a breach),” he said.

Dowden said the UK Government was “minded” to exempt books, journalism and media appearances from strict business appointment rules in the future.

It comes after Dowden in July announced a new ethics scheme designed to strengthen punishments for ex-ministers who breached the guidelines with new appointments.

One major change looked to address the breach Johnson was accused of, with a “ministerial deed” introduced to legally commit ministers to the rules on accepting jobs after they leave office, binding them by the same restrictions as civil servants.

The ethics report said a tightening of the rules could include further sanctions including “financial penalties” for breaches.

In his letter to Acoba on Thursday, Dowden said the reforms were likely to take a softer approach towards media work in order to support free speech.

He continued: “As part of these reforms, the Government is minded that media appearances, books or journalism should in due course be formally exempted from the business appointment rules (whilst still maintaining duty of confidentiality requirements).

“This recognises also the importance of the rights to free speech within the law. This ‘minded to’ approach is therefore guiding in the assessment of appropriate steps on this particular issue.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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