Boris Johnson is finalizing his legal defense as he prepares to face an inquiry in Downing Street this week looking into claims he deliberately misled MPs about illegal lockdown parties.
An appearance before the House of Commons Privileges Committee on Wednesday could be a pivotal moment in the political career of the former UK prime minister, who was forced out of office last summer by the resignation of dozens of ministers following multiple scandals under his premiership. .
A cross-party committee of MPs will question him in Parliament about his claim that no rules were broken at gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall during the Covid-19 restrictions in 2020 and 2021, which became known as the “Partygate” scandal.
If the committee finds Johnson to have misled the Commons, he could face a vote on whether to hold him in contempt of parliament and possible suspension as an MP. A suspension of more than 10 days will allow voters in his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip to launch a petition to trigger a parliamentary by-election.
On Sunday, Oliver Dowden, the minister in charge of the Cabinet Office, confirmed that Tory MPs would not be whipped into voting if Johnson faced a contempt vote. “With the house [of Commons’] It’s standard procedure not to whip the vote,” he said. “I’m sure Boris Johnson will put up a strong defence.”
In an interim report, the Privileges Committee emphasized the evidence that the violation of the coronavirus rules was obvious to the then prime minister.
A report issued earlier this month suggested Johnson may have misled the Commons on four occasions – including in December 2021 when he told MPs he had “relied on repeated assurances that the rules had not been broken”.
It added: “There is evidence that those advising Mr Johnson on what to say to the press and in the House were themselves struggling to argue that some of the gatherings were within the rules.”
But Johnson’s legal team is expected to argue that Johnson’s advisers told him shortly before he spoke in Parliament that No 10 had not broken any Covid rules. Say,” one colleague told the Sunday Telegraph.
The team are even prepared to argue that the official Downing Street photographer took photos of some of the gatherings because no one thought they were breaking the rules. Johnson’s defense will be submitted to the committee before Monday’s deadline and published on Wednesday.
Thangam Debonair, the shadow leader of the House of Commons, said on Sunday: “Boris Johnson’s attempts to discredit the inquiry show the total contempt he has for standards in public life. It is important that this prestigious committee, which has a majority of Tory MPs, can conduct its evidence sessions without intimidation.
Johnson and current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak were among 83 people who were fined 126 for breaking the Covid law, linked to eight different parties.
The Privileges Committee found in its interim report that Johnson had seen press office gatherings on his way to the flat above No. 10 and, according to witnesses, had occasionally joined them.
Johnson has criticized the fact that the inquiry is using evidence from Sue Gray, the senior civil servant who investigated the Partygate affair – and this month left Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer to become chief of staff.