Boris Johnson advisers ‘did not say parties followed rules’ as his dossier set to be published
Boris Johnson told parliament that Covid rules had been followed “at all times” at No 10 parties without any explicit assurance from advisors, according to a new report.
The prime minister’s Partygate defence dossier – which includes a lengthy rebuttal of allegations that he lied to parliament – is set to be published by a cross-party committee of MPs.
It is expected to include a message from his then-communications director Jack Doyle offering him a “line to take” on gatherings ahead of telling MPs no guidance or rules had been broken.
But a Whitehall source told The Times that Mr Johnson had gone “off script” when he told the Commons on 8 December 2022: “The guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.”
Mr Johnson’s is said to be “confident” about his showdown hearing before the privileges committee on Wednesday – having WhatsApp messages and other “internal comms” which show the advice he was given before speaking in parliament.
However, in their recent damning 20-page interim report, the privileges committee poured scorn on the fact that Mr Johnson’s key claim – that all Covid rules were followed – came from a special adviser and was not “a general assurance (that) no guidance or rules were broken”.
And the committee also revealed MPs found the then-No 10 communications director admitted there was a “great gaping hole” in Mr Johnson’s account, saying he was “not sure” the workplace exemption excuse worked.
The 50-plus page Johnson dossier, submitted to the committee at 2.30pm on Monday, is set to be published today after lawyers comb through the document to make appropriate redactions to protect the identity of some witnesses.
The former PM is set to argue in his dossier that the committee is both “unlawful” and politically biased – pointing to committee chair Harriet Harman’s previous tweets suggesting the ex-PM “knowingly lied”.
Mr Johnson’s legal team will argue that if the committee’s findings were subjected to a judicial review they would be found to be “unlawful”, according to The Times. But the cross-party inquiry committee is protected by parliamentary privilege, so cannot be taken to court.
He will be able to bring and consult with his lawyer Lord Pannick KC during Wednesday’s grilling – set to take place between 2pm and 6pm – but the lawyer will not be able to answer questions on the ex-PM’s behalf.
Tory peer Lord Hayward has warned that the party would be “finished” and a viewed as an “utter joke” if Mr Johnson were to stage a comeback as prime minister.
The polling guru said Mr Johnson is “a serious negative for most people”, adding that his personal polling remains far worse than Mr Sunak’s.
Yet Johnson allies have repeatedly lashed out at the inquiry – calling it a “McCarthyite witchhunt” and have pressured four Tory MPs on the cross-party committee to quit the “kangaroo court”.
Johnson ally Jacob Rees-Mogg said the cross-party committee investigation was “political” – and suggested it dates back to “haters of Brexit” trying to bring him down.
He told Monday night’s GB News show: “The privileges committee is not even a proper legal setup. It has a gossamer of constitutional propriety thrown over it, but it is in fact a political committee against Boris Johnson who had a mandate. And why is his mandate challenged?
“Well, of course, it’s by the haters of Brexit, the haters of Brexit who never accepted the election result that he achieved and what he did to take this country out of the European Union.”
With Mr Johnson facing a potential by-election if he is suspended for at least 10 days, Mr Sunak said he would not tell his MPs how to vote on any punishment that may be recommended by the privileges committee.
The PM told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday: “These are matters for parliament and the House and MPs as individuals, rather than for government.”