Boris allies rage at latest Partygate probe ‘stitch up’

Boris Johnson says he didn’t believe No. 10 events were illegal

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Boris Johnson’s allies have criticised a “stitch up” parliamentary probe for withholding a bombshell dossier setting out evidence that he did not deliberately mislead MPs. This lunchtime the ex-Prime Minister handed over documents showing aides had advised him that gatherings in No 10 did not break lockdown rules to the Privileges Committee ahead of its four-hour televised grilling on Wednesday. Supporters said the delay fuelled suspicions about how the process, headed by Labour’s Harriet Harman, was being carried out.

One former minister said: “It’s a pity but not a surprise that Harriet Harman’s committee won’t publish Boris’s evidence today. Maybe they need a bit more time to move the goalposts again to get the result they’re after.

“Boris’s evidence should be published by Harman without delay so everyone can see how Boris did not knowingly mislead Parliament.”

Tory Sir James Duddridge, one of Mr Johnson’s closest allies, said: “The committee should just get on and publish. What are they waiting for?

“Any further delay leads to suspicions all is not right.”

Conservative MP Lia Nici said Mr Johnson is the victim of a “politically coordinated stitch-up” by people who hate him.

Mrs Nici said there is “no evidence” that the ex-PM “deliberately” misled parliament.

“If this committee succeeds in ousting Boris Johnson from Parliament, it will make this country look like a banana republic,” Ms Nici added.

“This is not what democracy looks like.”

The committee pointed out it only received the dossier this afternoon and its clerks and lawyers need time to review the documents.

But sources close to Mr Johnson urged it to publish the evidence “as soon as possible” and pointed out he is not allowed to release the material under rules set out by the probe.

If the committee decides the former premier deliberately misled Parliament he could be suspended and face a by-election.

Mr Johnson has been advised during the inquiry by top barrister Lord Pannick KC, who was a prominent critic during the ex-PM’s No 10 tenure.

Downing Street warned Mr Johnson’s supporters against interfering in the inquiry.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Rishi Sunak “firmly believes it’s a matter for Parliament” and endorsed Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt’s warning that “a very dim view will be taken” of anyone who “tries to prevent them from carrying out this serious work”.

She also said the committee must be able to “work without fear or favour”.

Mr Sunak’s spokesman added: “We think this is a committee that’s carrying out a function asked to by Parliament, it’s a parliamentary matter, and the Leader of the House set out how we would want parliamentarians to engage with it.”

Downing Street was also forced to deny it had delayed key announcements because of the distraction that will be caused by Mr Johnson’s inquiry appearance.

“It’s wrong to suggest Government business changes as a result of this committee hearing,” the spokesman said.

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The hearing clashes with a key vote on Mr Sunak’s new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, which Democratic Unionist Party MPs plan to oppose.

An estimated £220,000 of taxpayers’ money has been allocated for Mr Johnson’s legal bills.

If the committee rules that he did mislead the House, it will consider whether it was “reckless or intentional” and amounted to a contempt of Parliament.

An interim report by the committee earlier this month said evidence strongly suggested breaches of coronavirus rules would have been “obvious” to the then-prime minister.

But Mr Johnson claimed it was “clear” he had not committed a contempt of Parliament, arguing there is “no evidence in the report that I knowingly or recklessly misled Parliament” or failed to update it in a timely manner.

He has also cast doubt on the findings of Sue Gray’s separate report on partygate, after she quit the civil service to take up a role in Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s office.

The Privileges Committee is examining evidence around at least four occasions when Mr Johnson may have misled MPs with his assurances to the Commons that lockdown rules were followed.

It intends to publish Mr Johnson’s dossier retaliating “as soon as is practicably possible”, a spokesman said.

“The Committee of Privileges can confirm it received written evidence from Boris Johnson MP at 2.32pm on Monday.

“The Committee will need to review what has been submitted in the interests of making appropriate redactions to protect the identity of some witnesses.”

A suspension of 10 sitting days or more for Mr Johnson could ultimately trigger a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat, which he held with a majority of 7,210 in 2019.

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