The Battle of Boris: Johnson defiant as he faces four-hour Partygate grilling TODAY after dismissing ‘partisan’ claims he deliberately misled MPs
Boris Johnson is gearing up for battle with MPs today as he furiously denies deliberately misleading the Commons over Partygate.
The ex-PM is set for a four-hour showdown with the Privileges Committee as he fights to clear his name – with the threat of a by-election hanging over his head.
Mr Johnson has already issued a 52-page dossier insisting he was repeatedly assured by officials that lockdown rules were following in Downing Street.
He also criticised the ‘highly partisan tone and content’ of the cross-party committee’s interim report.
Mr Johnson acknowledged that the House of Commons was inadvertently ‘misled by my statements’ but insisted: ‘When the statements were made, they were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time.’
The committee, chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman, has said it will assess whether Mr Johnson ‘recklessly’ misled the House, as well as the more typical threshold of whether he did so ‘deliberately’.
It could recommend a suspension from the Commons, and if that was 10 days or more there is the potential to trigger a by-election in Mr Johnson’s Uxbridge & South Ruislip constituency. The House as a whole would have to sign off a punishment, with Mr Sunak saying he will not order Tories to support his predecessor.
Boris Johnson is set for a four-hour showdown with the Privileges Committee as he fights to clear his name
The ex-PM conceded in his evidence to the committee that his statements to Parliament ‘did not turn out to be correct’ – but insisted he amended the record at ‘the earliest opportunity’
The Privileges Committee is chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman (pictured)
A tranche of evidence is due to be published this morning ahead of Mr Johnson appearing before them at 2pm.
Heightening the drama, the House of Commons will be debating and voting on Rishi Sunak’s new Brexit terms for Northern Ireland at the same time.
Mr Johnson has signalled that he will join the DUP and Tory Eurosceptics opposing the ‘Windsor Framework – leaving the PM scrambling to minimise the scale of a damaging revolt.
Key points from Boris Johnson’s Partygate rebuttal dossier
- Boris Johnson said his statements to Parliament ‘did not turn out to be correct’, but insisted he amended the record at ‘the earliest opportunity’.
- Mr Johnson argued that many other No10 aides were also ‘honestly’ convinced that rules had been followed.
- He stressed that he was repeatedly assured by senior aides that there had been no breaches.
- Mr Johnson said it is ‘unprecedented and absurd’ to suggest he was reckless to rely on the assurances of his advisers and criticised the ‘highly partisan tone and content’ in the committee’s interim report.
- Mr Johnson revealed he still has no idea why he was fined by police over his birthday ‘party’ in June 2020, and suggested that Rishi Sunak feels the same way.
- Mr Johnson urged the committee not to treat Dominic Cummings as a ‘credible witness’ because of his ‘animosity towards me’.
- Mr Johnson acknowledged that he had gone further than the line he had been given by No10 advisers when responding to a ‘surprise’ question from Keir Starmer at PMQs.
- But he said his insistence that guidance had been followed in No10 reflected his ‘honest and reasonable belief at the time’.
Teeing up his evidence today, Mr Johnson said: ‘I believe that the evidence conclusively shows that I did not knowingly or recklessly mislead Parliament.
‘The committee has produced not a shred of evidence to show that I have.’
Conservative backbencher Peter Bone said he did not believe Mr Johnson would face suspension.
‘I don’t think for one moment they’re going to reach that decision because if you look objectively to say that Boris Johnson knowingly lied there’s no evidence of it,’ he told Sky News.
‘Haven’t they had thousands and thousands of WhatsApp messages and they’ve been going on for this inquiry for 10 months and found nothing.’
Yesterday Mr Johnson released messages for the first time showing that his statements to parliament directly reflected the advice he was receiving from officials.
Following media reports in November 2021 of a ‘party’ in the No 10 press office the previous Christmas, his then communications director Jack Doyle sent him a WhatsApp message stating: ‘I think you can say, ‘I’ve been assured there was no party and no rules were broken’.’
Mr Johnson then sought further assurance from his former communications chief James Slack, who told him that ‘the rules were followed’.
A few days later, as the media storm gathered, Mr Johnson asked Mr Doyle to find a way to ‘get the truth out there’ about the event, suggesting he was satisfied that the gathering had been within the rules.
In one section Mr Johnson acknowledged that he had gone further than the line he had been given by advisers, but stressed it was based on his ‘honest and reasonable belief’.
‘I meant to repeat the line which my advisers had already given to the Daily Mirror – i.e. that: ‘Covid rules were followed at all times’.
‘However, I did believe that ‘all guidance was followed completely in No 10’.
‘This was based on my honest and reasonable belief at the time.’
Mr Johnson began his submission to the committee by repeating previous apologies ‘for what happened on my watch’.
‘It is now clear that over a number of days, there were gatherings at No 10 that, however they began, went past the point where they could be said to have been reasonably necessary for work purposes,’ he said.
A survey of activists by the grass roots ConservativeHome website found widespread scepticism about the process, with 59 per cent saying it is unfair
‘That should never have happened, and it fills me with sadness and regret that it did.’
Mr Johnson highlighted a cache of evidence showing that officials repeatedly assured him that media reports of rule-breaking were wrong.
He pointed out that the 11-month investigation by the committee has failed to find a single document telling him that rules had been broken.
MPs are expected to question him closely over pictures of staff apparently close to each other and of tables laden with alcohol.
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