Rarely can the saying that a week is a long time in politics have been more true than in the case of Boris Johnson. The timetable for the election of the next Conservative leader, which was announced last week, clearly favoured him, given the large lead he has over his closest rivals. But the decision of District Judge Margot Coleman has turned that advantage on its head. For there is no realistic chance that the prosecution against Johnson can be concluded before Conservative MPs decide which two candidates will go before the membership.
There has been talk of a judicial review to the High Court of the District Judge’s decision, but even if this can be expedited, the appeal is most likely to fail. The High Court has made it clear that it will not hear challenges to a decision to prosecute save in wholly exceptional circumstances, none of which appear to apply here. The proper course is to defend the case in the criminal courts, which in this case will be the Crown Court.
It is possible in the Crown Court to apply to dismiss the case, and no doubt such an application will be made in this case. But even if such an application were to be expedited, it is highly unlikely that it could be heard before the end of June when Conservative MP’s have to decide on the names of the two candidates who will be put to the Tory membership.
How will the fact of this prosecution affect the votes of MPs? It is doubtful that their views of the merits of the case will have been changed by the judge’s decision. The threshold for issuing the summons was low – that is, was there a prima facie case – and the judge did not express a view on Johnson’s guilt or innocence.