Boris Johnson partygate inquiry: Expect sparks to fly as former prime minister faces four-hour grilling by MPs
Boris Johnson’s defence has finally landed – a 52-page dossier outlining why he believes he “acted in good faith” when he told the House of Commons “no rules were broken” over parties in lockdown.
He accepts he misled parliament, but not that it was deliberate.
The crux of Mr Johnson’s argument is very simple: no one warned him at the time. He says he “relied on assurances” from his advisers and was “focused on difficult decisions concerning the pandemic”.
Johnson accepts he misled parliament over partygate
Key parts of Boris Johnson’s partygate evidence
Mr Johnson names, and effectively blames, a number of officials including his former director of communications Jack Doyle.
He describes asking Mr Doyle whether a “team meeting” with cheese and secret Santa breached rules, with Mr Johnson saying: “He told me it was within the rules.”
The former PM’s allies have been quick to rally, with longtime backer James Duddridge saying: “People do mislead the house by accident, you misspeak.”
But the question of whether Mr Johnson corrected the record at the earliest possible opportunity is crucial.
As former parliamentary lawyer Professor Alexander Horne puts it: “The biggest danger for Boris Johnson is that he is found to have recklessly misled the house and then knowingly decided not to issue a correction in the usual fashion.”
Professor Horne said Mr Johnson’s argument that he could not say anything while police investigations were ongoing appears “fairly weak”.
There are two threads to Mr Johnson’s defence: That he was badly advised and that the process itself has not been fair.
He talks about the “partisan tone” of the privileges committee’s interim report, and one ally tells me the inquiry is a “Labour stitch-up”.
Labour’s Harriet Harman chairs the privileges committee, after Chris Bryant recused himself over past comments about Mr Johnson, but the majority of MPs on the committee are Conservative.
The privileges committee’s interim report said the evidence strongly suggested breaches of coronavirus rules in No 10 would have been “obvious” to Mr Johnson.
What happens if the committee finds Johnson misled MPs?
How Johnson defended each of his partygate statements to parliament
Today it said Mr Johnson’s defence contains “no new documentary evidence”.
If their verdict is that Mr Johnson did recklessly mislead parliament he could face a punishment ranging from an apology in the House of Commons, to a suspension serious enough to ultimately trigger a by-election.
On Wednesday, the committee will hear four hours of evidence from Mr Johnson. Sparks are likely to fly.
Renewed focus on the scandal that helped bring down the former PM may sound like something that would bode well for Rishi Sunak, but the inquiry seems to be galvanising Mr Johnson’s most ardent backers.
Mr Johnson in the limelight, taking attention away from government business, is not helpful for Mr Sunak.
Watch coverage of Boris Johnson giving evidence to the privileges committee on partygate live on Sky News from 2pm.
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