Boris Johnson will give a ‘solid defence’ of his actions during Partygate, the minister says ahead of the four-hour marathon of questioning the former prime minister by MPs this week, with blurry photos inside number 10 that will form the backbone of his 50-page defense case.
- The former prime minister is ready to argue that he received clear advice. Meetings were within the rules.
- You could also question the impartiality of the Committee on the Privileges of Commons.
Boris Johnson will give a ‘robust defence’ of his actions during the Partygate scandal, a senior minister said today ahead of the marathon questioning of the former prime minister by lawmakers this week.
The former prime minister has compiled a comprehensive legal case ahead of his four-hour appearance before the Committee on Privileges on Wednesday, allies claim.
He is expected to argue that he received clear advice at the time that the lockdown meetings at Downing Street were within the Covid rules, which will be made public in the coming days.
His defense is also expected to challenge the impartiality of the Commons Privileges Committee, which could decide his political fate when questioned.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Oliver Dowden, told Sky News on Sunday: “I am sure Boris Johnson will defend himself staunchly and then it will be up to the committee to determine the outcome.”
Asked if there will be a free vote for Conservative MPs if the committee recommends sanctions, Dowden said it is “standard practice” on House business.
“I’m not sure any final decisions have been made, but that would be the precedent we would hope to follow,” he said.
Photos of Mr Johnson and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case surrounded by Downing Street staff (other faces blurred for anonymity) form the core of his defense that he did not intentionally mislead the House about the parties from the Covid era at number 10.
Sources say that none of the more than two dozen No 10 employees who have presented evidence to the committee (many of whom are pictured) have told MPs they believed they were breaking the rules.
SPEECH: Official photo of Mr Johnson’s birthday in June 2020. No10 blurred the faces of other staff except Simon Case
Boris Johnson pictured here meeting at No10 on June 19, 2020, with then Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Johnson is also likely to argue that the meetings were held to try to boost morale at number 10, that it had been hit by waves of illness and that it contributed to a stressful work environment.
A source said: ‘People were dropping like flies. People worked long hours under stressful conditions and Boris wanted them to stay cheerful and motivated.
“Those people in the photos used the same offices and bathrooms, opened the same doors, used the same printers, copiers and telephones, and breathed the same air in that ventilated Victorian building for 16 hours a day.
“The fact that (official photographer) Andy Parsons took a lot of photos and put them on Flickr account number 10 shows that we didn’t think we had anything to hide.”
Johnson’s challenge underscores what is at stake this week in his televised public questioning, which could last four hours.
The committee, which is made up of four Conservatives, two Labor MPs and one SNP MP, can recommend a ten-day suspension of the Commons if it believes you intentionally misled MPs, a penalty that could lead to a by-election in Uxbridge and South. Ruislip seat.
Last night, sources close to the committee responded to claims by former Home Secretary Priti Patel about a “culture of collusion” and lack of objectivity after negative comments made by members about Johnson.
One source said talk of collusion was “absolutely idiotic” and dismissed any suggestion that the committee’s opinion was already settled on the former prime minister’s behaviour.
The then prime minister pictured himself raising a glass at number 10 during a meeting to mark the departure of a special adviser on November 13, 2020.
The committee hearing coincides with a vote on an aspect of Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit Northern Ireland deal with the EU that Johnson supporters hope will be useful to them.
A source said: “Many of the people who feel Boris was mistreated are upset with elements of the deal, and this is going to fuel the rebellion.”
There is anger among Johnson’s allies over Sunak’s decision to allow his party to vote freely on the results of the committee’s inquiry.
A senior Tory said: “If the prime minister is not prepared to support his predecessor who is before a kangaroo court, that is serious.”
Johnson’s allies also believe the dispute over Partygate investigator Sue Gray accepting a senior Labor Party job increases their chances of successfully arguing that she has been the victim of a “seam”.
However, the committee said its initial report this month was “not based on Sue Gray’s report” but on other evidence, including material provided by the government.
Johnson’s spokesman said: ‘The committee will vindicate Boris Johnson. The evidence will show that Boris Johnson did not knowingly mislead Parliament.