Boris Johnson’s Partygate inquisitor Sir Bernard Jenkin was last night facing a police investigation over claims he himself attended a lockdown-breaking party.
Scotland Yard said it has launched a formal investigation into a “birthday drinks” party for the Tory grandee’s wife amid evidence of “a serious and flagrant breach” of Covid rules.
Previously, the force was only “assessing” whether any breaches had occurred.
It means Sir Bernard, co-author of a controversial Commons report into claims Johnson lied to Parliament about closed parties at Downing Street, now faces the humiliation of being questioned about his own conduct.
At the same time, police effectively cleared Johnson last night over extraordinary Cabinet Office allegations that he committed further breaches of the lockdown while in office.
Faced with questions: Scotland Yard said it has launched a formal investigation into a ‘birthday drinks’ party for the wife of Conservative grandee Sir Bernard Jenkin (who left with his wife Anne) amid evidence of ‘a serious and flagrant rape’ ‘of Covid rules
Conservative peer Lord Cruddas (left with Jacob Rees Mogg), a close ally of the former prime minister, last night called on Sir Bernard to resign from the privileges committee, which investigated Johnson, “for the sake of the integrity of the Commons “.
Conservative peer Lord Cruddas, a close ally of the former prime minister, last night called on Sir Bernard to resign from the privileges committee, which investigated Johnson, “for the sake of the integrity of the Commons”.
If Sir Bernard is found to have broken the law, questions could be raised about the House of Commons privileges committee’s investigation into Johnson, which triggered his shock resignation from Parliament.
When allegations about Sir Bernard first emerged last month, Johnson wrote to the committee’s chair, Harriet Harman, accusing him of “utter hypocrisy” and warning her that if the allegations were true, “he can no longer be regarded as a judge.” or valid investigator”. in this procedure.”
However, Sir Bernard continued to contribute to the committee’s damning report and voted in favor of its conclusions, despite remaining silent in the face of questions about his own conduct.
The gathering investigated by police took place in December 2020 and was allegedly aimed at celebrating the birthday of his wife, Baroness Jenkin, who is now also facing an investigation.
Sir Bernard has refused to answer questions about his attendance at the event, where cakes and alcohol were allegedly offered, for three weeks.
But fellow Conservative MP Virginia Crosbie apologized for being at the meeting, saying it was an “error of judgement” to attend, although she said she was only there briefly.
- Up to ten people were said to have attended, with one source claiming social distancing “went out the window”. In other developments:
- Police said they would reopen an investigation into a ‘Jingle and Mingle’ party held at Conservative headquarters by staff of former London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey.
- Parliamentary sources said Commons deputy speaker Dame Eleanor Laing could be “in trouble” for allegedly hosting birthday drinks attended by Sir Bernard in his Commons suite if rules were broken .
- Police said diary entries allegedly showing Johnson breached Covid rules at 16 events at No 10 and Checkers did not meet the threshold for investigation.
- The Cabinet Office denied claims by Johnson’s friends that it had launched a “malicious” campaign to harm him.
News of the investigation into Sir Bernard came just minutes after he used his role as chairman of the Commons liaison committee to question Rishi Sunak during a 90-minute hearing.
He had faced calls for him to resign as president amid questions about whether he had breached lockdown rules.
Shortly afterwards, he refused to answer questions from the Daily Mail for the second time in a week.
Asked if he had broken any rules and if the police had been in contact, he said: “I have nothing to say.”
This newspaper also contacted Baroness Jenkin, who replied: ‘Sorry, I can’t answer any questions. I have nothing to say.’
After Scotland Yard announced its investigation, Sir Bernard said: “It is not appropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation.”
Boris Johnson testified before the House of Commons Privileges Committee in March about the Partygate investigation.
Sir Bernard Jenkin questions Boris Johnson during Partygate inquiry in March
The report he co-authored as a member of the privileges committee found that Johnson repeatedly lied to Parliament about closed meetings in No 10, virtually ending the former prime minister’s career in the House of Commons.
But Sir Bernard has been accused of “staggering hypocrisy” for condemning Johnson’s behavior while he himself faces accusations of breaking lockdown rules.
Last month, Johnson called the allegations against Sir Bernard “a complete contempt of Parliament” and said he has “no choice” but to recuse himself from the privileges committee.
Former Business Secretary Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg had also called on him to resign from the liaison committee ahead of yesterday’s hearing.
In its statement yesterday, Scotland Yard said: “Following assessment of material relating to a meeting in Parliament, the Met is opening an investigation into possible breaches of regulations at an event on 8 December 2020.” He made it clear that he initiates retrospective investigations into lockdown violations when there is “evidence of a serious and flagrant violation.”
The Met added that it only does so when “there is evidence that those involved knew or should have known that what they were doing was a crime”, that “failing to investigate would significantly undermine the legitimacy of the law” and when “there is little ambiguity around to the absence of a reasonable defense”.
An ally of Sir Bernard previously told the Guardian that he briefly attended the December 2020 meeting to pick up his wife and believed it was a “work event”. But this was contradicted after an invitation, sent via WhatsApp by his wife, emerged which apparently described it as a “birthday drinks” party for “some of our favorite people”. Ms Crosbie’s apology also contradicted her account, as she suggested rules may have been broken.
The event was held in the offices of Dame Eleanor, who has so far been allowed to continue chairing debates in the House of Commons despite the allegations.
But there were doubts last night over whether he will have to resign while the police investigation takes place.
At the time of the event, lockdown rules made clear that “you should not meet socially indoors with family or friends unless they are part of your household… or your support bubble.”
Everyone who can “work effectively from home should do so,” the official guidelines added, without justifying an indoor social celebration.
Former culture secretary Maria Miller and Conservative MP Miriam Cates are also believed to have attended and could also face questions.
The police decision to reopen the investigation into the ‘Jingle and Mingle’ event follows the emergence last month of a video of drinking and dancing in a room at CCHQ on December 14, 2020.
An earlier investigation into the incident by Mr Bailey’s team did not result in any fines. Mr Bailey does not appear in the video, but was photographed at the event.
The Lib Dems said last night that he should lose the peerage given to him in Johnson’s resignation honours.