Boris Johnson: Ex-PM to reveal evidence in Partygate defense

Boris Johnson will release evidence in his defense ahead of a questioning from MPs about whether he misled Parliament about Covid rule-breaking parties.

On Wednesday, the former prime minister will testify before the Commons Privileges Committee via televised evidence.

The committee has yet to issue its final report, but an earlier update stated that Mr Johnson may have misled Parliament several times.

Mr. Johnson denies deceiving MPs.

Wednesday’s session, which could last up to five hours, will be a critical opportunity for Mr Johnson to persuade the committee’s seven cross-party MPs that he did not mislead MPs in December 2021.

That would include when he told the Commons that he had “been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

According to sources close to Mr Johnson, he will publish a “compelling dossier” with evidence and arguments that he did not knowingly mislead parliament.

If he fails to persuade the committee and is found guilty, he faces suspension from the Commons and even a recall petition, which would force a by-election if the suspension is for more than 10 days.

However, any sanction imposed on Mr Johnson would have to be approved by MPs.

In May of last year, a senior civil servant’s investigation found widespread rule-breaking, and Mr Johnson was among 83 people fined by police for attending law-breaking events.

According to the Sunday Times, Observer, and Sunday Telegraph, Mr Johnson’s “dossier” will include advice he claims he received from No 10 aides at the time, advising him that Covid rules were not broken.

According to one source, the messages show “in black and white” that what Mr Johnson told Parliament was what officials and his No 10 team advised him to say, claiming he was forced to rely on advice because he was not present at some of the events.

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden – who served in Mr Johnson’s government – told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg on Sunday programme he expected the former prime minister to “put forward a robust defence of his conduct”.

According to the press, Mr Johnson’s defense may repeat allegations of bias leveled at former top civil servant Sue Gray, whose inquiry found widespread rule-breaking in Whitehall during Covid.

Sue Gray has since resigned and been offered a job as Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff, infuriating Boris Johnson’s former cabinet colleagues Jacob Rees-Mogg MP and Nadine Dorries MP.

The Labour Party has stated that it will provide the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), the government’s appointments watchdog, with all information related to its approach to her.

However, minister Jeremy Quin has stated that her proposed move may have violated Whitehall rules, as approval is required prior to a job offer being announced.

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According to Downing Street sources, any sanctions imposed on Mr Johnson would be decided by the House of Commons, and MPs will be given a free vote, which means they will not be “whipped” to vote a certain way.

That means Tory MPs will not be asked to vote on the proposed suspension of Owen Paterson in November 2021, when Mr Johnson was still prime minister.

The government attempted to prevent Mr Paterson’s suspension from the Commons but was forced to back down after a backlash. He then resigned as a member of Parliament.

At the time, Mr Johnson came in for criticism from many of his own MPs about being told to back Mr Paterson, amid Labour accusations of “sleaze”. Only a few weeks later did the first Partygate stories emerge.

The Paterson scandal marked the end of Mr Johnson’s tenure as Prime Minister, and he later admitted he “crashed the car” in his handling of the case.

“The Privileges Committee will vindicate Boris Johnson’s position,” said a spokesman for Mr Johnson.

“The evidence will show that Boris Johnson did not knowingly mislead the House of Commons.”

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