Later today, Boris Johnson will finally face the House of Commons Privileges Committee, which since April of last year has been investigating the former Prime Minister over what he knew and did not know about the so-called“Partygate” scandall.
Specifically, whether Mr Johnson intentionally and recklessly misled Parliament over what he knew about parties in No 10 during the COVID pandemic.
The inquiry was launched after a series of media stories aboutgatherings in No 10 which were not compliant lockdown rules, including a number which could only be described as parties, where alcohol was consumed, and social distancing went out the window.
Mr Johnson was questioned on several occasions about the media reports in Parliament, where he strenuously denied that according to advice he had received, no rule had been broken and the guidance had been followed at all time.
But an inquiry by the senior civil servant Sue Gray, who is now the Labour Leader’s, Sir Kier Starmer’s chief of staff, later found rule-breaking had taken place across multiple events. The police also issued fines to 83 people, including to Mr Johnson and the current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for breaching Covid laws.
Following the publication of the report and police fines, Mr Johnson, apologised for misleading MPs, however questions remain as to whether this was accidental or a deliberate and reckless attempt to mislead Parliament.
The Commons Privileges Committee will try to find out the answer to this question.
Ahead of his grilling the former prime minister published a52-page defence of his actions, where he again repeats his claim that according to advice he received at the time, all the rules were followed, and he had acted in “good faith” at all times.
In the defence document, prepared by a taxpayer-funded legal team, headed by top barrister Lord Pannick KC, a crossbench peer Mr Johnson says he had not “intentionally or recklessly” misled MPs, and would “never have dreamed of doing so”.
He added that it remained “unclear to me” to him as to why he was fined for attending a meeting in No 10 at the end of which drinks were consumed and a cake brought to mark his birthday 10 in June 2020.
Mr Johnson concluded his defence dossier to attack the conduct of the inquiry, accusing the committee of being “highly partisan” and going against precedents set by previous similar inquiries and in one final swipe asked the members of the committee to disregard evidence from his former adviser Dominic Cummings.
The wording “intentionally or recklessly” is crucial to the inquiry as if Mr Johnson is found guilty of intentionally and recklessly misleading Parliament the committee, chaired by veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman, could recommend to the House of Common that he is suspended from Parliament.
If the House of Commons decided to suspend the former Prime Minister for more than 10 sitting days, this could then attract a “recall petition” in his constituency, which if more than 10 per cent of the local electorate supported would trigger a by-election.
Earlier today and ahead of the hearing, due to start at 2pm, the Committee published its own 110-page dossier bringingtogether photos, past Covid guidance, witness statements and Commons transcripts, which they intend to refer to during Mr Johnson’s questioning.
The dossier includes what it claims to be evidence from Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who says he never advised Johnson that all Covid rules had been followed in No 10 and comments from an official saying Mr Johnson could have shut down gatherings but instead joined in and “allowed the culture to continue”.
It also includes an exchange between Jack Doyle, the formerNo 10 press chief, about how to respond to questions from journalist Pippa Crerar, who then worked at The Mirror.
In the messages, Doyle asks the official to “pull together our best possible defence on this one”.
The official then suggests: “‘Covid rules have been followed at all times’ or something”.
In response, Doyle tells the official they have to say,”something as robust as we can manage” and to “ignore the ‘Xmas quiz’ bullshit – who cares”.
“Just be robust and they’ll get bored,” Doyle adds.