Boris Johnson’s official partygate defence set to be revealed today

Politics

Boris Johnson’s defence against claims he lied to parliament about whether he knew about Downing Street lockdown parties could be published today.

The former prime minister’s case was submitted to the privileges committee by barrister Lord Pannick KC, and allies believe his position – that he was unaware any gatherings broke the rules – will be “vindicated”.

An estimated £220,000 of taxpayer’s money has been allocated for Mr Johnson‘s legal bills.

The seven-member privileges committee, chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman but with a Tory majority, will decide whether the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP misled the Commons – and if it was “reckless or intentional”.

Should his actions be deemed a contempt of parliament, the committee will recommend a punishment that MPs will subsequently get to decide upon – with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expected to grant a free vote.

A suspension from parliament of 10 days or more could ultimately trigger a by-election in Mr Johnson’s seat.

His defence is expected to be published before he faces the committee on Wednesday.

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What is Johnson’s case?

The committee is examining evidence from at least four occasions when he may have misled the Commons with his guarantees that restrictions were stuck to.

An interim report by the committee earlier this month suggested breaches of lockdown rules in place during the coronavirus pandemic should have been “obvious” to Mr Johnson.

But he has said there is “no evidence in the report that I knowingly or recklessly misled parliament”.

He is expected to highlight previously unrevealed WhatsApp messages from senior civil servants and members of his Number 10 team, showing he had relied on their advice when he made his statements.

Others will showcase a belief that the gatherings were covered by the “workplace exemption” in the lockdown rules.

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Everything you need to know about partygate investigation

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Partygate inquiry explained

‘A witch hunt’

Mr Johnson has also sought to cast doubt on the findings of Sue Gray’s report on partygate, after she quit the civil service because she intends to take up a role as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.

Backers have also sought to question the impartiality of Ms Harman.

Ex-minister Conor Burns, an ally of Mr Johnson, said: “Boris Johnson’s contention is that what he told the House of Commons was, to the best information supplied to him, true when he told that to parliament.

“I welcome the fact that he is going to bring forward evidence to back up that.”

Tory peer Lord Greenhalgh told Times Radio: “I’m concerned that it will be a witch hunt.”

Current ministers refused to be drawn on the committee process on Sunday.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she was an “admirer” of Mr Johnson, but would not comment further.

Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said he expected Mr Johnson to give a “robust defence” of his actions.

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