Boris Johnson is fighting for political life before the Partygate barbecue
Boris Johnson sat down with his legal team this weekend to prepare for an extraordinary televised barbecue of MPs that will decide his political fate.
The former Tory prime minister is scrambling to salvage his career as he prepares for Wednesday’s four-hour showdown hearing on whether he lied in Parliament about Partygate.
Mr Johnson will hand a 50-page dossier to the all-party Privileges Committee on Monday to counter the narrative that he lied about his knowledge of parties held at No 10 during the Covid crisis.
It’s lunchtime for Mr Johnson – who faces a possible by-election in his Uxbridge and Ruislip constituency if he is found to have broken the rules – who is still hoping he can stage an unlikely return to No. 10.
The attempted pushback creates a notable conflict of evidence after the committee’s first 20-page report said it would have been “obvious” to Mr Johnson that events he personally attended breached Covid rules.
In the dirtiest political battle Westminster has seen in years, Johnson allies are trying to undermine the committee’s authority. Senior Tory MPs have accused the former PM of “Trumpian” tactics.
Allies of Mr Johnson claimed he would give the committee a “detailed and persuasive” report before he appeared, showing he “did not knowingly mislead the House”.
The dossier, overseen by his lawyer David Pannick KQ, will reference a series of WhatsApp messages from senior officials and members of his No 10 team, showing he had relied on their advice in his statements to Parliament.
Mr Johnson will also release messages showing other senior figures in No 10 believed the gatherings would fall under the “workplace exception” in the lockdown rules.
However, the committee has revealed that MPs have noted that the then-No10 communications chief has admitted there is a “big gaping hole” in Mr Johnson’s account and says he is “not sure” the exemption excused from the workplace worked.
The committee also noted that Mr Johnson’s main claim – that all rules were being followed – came from a special counsel and was not a “general assurance (that) no guidance or rules were broken”.
But in a fight to save himself, the former prime minister is also expected to attack the committee itself, explaining why the process should be “ended”.
Mr Johnson and his allies allege that the committee’s interim report is based on evidence gathered by former senior official Sue Gray during her Partygate investigation, which concluded in May 2022.
But the eight-member committee, headed by Labor veteran Harriet Harman, has made clear it was gathering evidence directly from witnesses independently of Ms Gray’s account.
And although Mrs Gray is set to become Keir Starmer’s chief of staff, she was only approached about the Labor role in November, six months after the release of her Partygate report, it is said.
Lord Cruddas, the former Tory party treasurer who launched the Conservative Democratic Organization (CDO) after Mr Johnson was thrown out of No 10, has claimed the committee was a “stab”.
The Conservative Post, a CDO-affiliated website, has launched a petition urging party members to email the four Tory MPs sitting on the committee, urging them to leave the “banana republic”.
Members of the email drafts are encouraged to warn MPs – Alberto Costa, Sir Bernard Jenkin, Andy Carter and Laura Farris – of “deep concern and disappointment at your involvement in the Labour-led inquiry”.
Commons leader Penny Mordaunt said earlier this week that any MP or colleague trying to pressure the Privileges Committee inquiry would take a “dark view” to halt its work.
Another Johnson ally, ex-Home Secretary Priti Patel, said the Partygate probe “casts our democracy in a very, very bad light” and claimed there is a “culture of collusion”.
But a senior Tory MP said Mr Johnson and his allies had become “full of Trump” in their “desperate” attempt to discredit the committee ahead of a vote in the House of Commons on punishment.
If they are found to have lied to Parliament and suspended, all MPs would have to vote to agree on the sanction. If a suspension of at least 10 days is imposed, Mr Johnson could face a recall request from his constituents, which would then trigger a by-election.
Rishi Sunak has made it clear he would not use the Tory whip to put pressure on his colleagues amid the threat of a possible suspension. The Prime Minister said earlier this week: “It is not right for the government to interfere.”
Cabinet Office Oliver Dowden said he expected Mr Johnson to mount a “robust” defense on Wednesday – but made clear it would be up to MPs to decide his fate. Asked whether there would be a free vote on sanctions for Tory MPs, Mr Dowden told Sky News it was “standard practice” on House affairs.
Mr Johnson is believed to have received uncensored evidence collected by the committee since the summer, including 23 witness statements and names of people who took part.
He will be able to bring Lord Pannick along and consult with him during Wednesday’s barbecue – which is due to take place between 2pm and 6pm – but the solicitor will not be able to answer questions on behalf of the ex-PM.
A spokesman for Mr Johnson said The Independent: “The Privileges Committee will confirm Mr Johnson’s position.
“Despite 10 months of work, it has not produced a single piece of evidence to show that Mr Johnson knowingly misled Parliament. Rather, the evidence is shown to support Mr Johnson’s case.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-partygate-hearing-parliament-b2303801.html Boris Johnson is fighting for political life before the Partygate barbecue