Former Downing Street figures are preparing to give evidence claiming Boris Johnson misled Parliament over what he knew about the partygate scandal, The Telegraph can reveal.
This newspaper has talked to three people contacted by the committee investigating whether the Prime Minister misled MPs about what he knew about the lockdown-breaking gatherings.
All three have alleged that Mr Johnson did not give the fullest account of the facts as he knew them at the time. One has agreed to give evidence to the committee, and two others are considering likewise.
The development gives the clearest indication yet of what material Harriet Harman, the Labour chairman of the privileges committee, is starting to gather as part of her investigation.
Her committee is looking into whether Mr Johnson’s comments to MPs last December, when claims of lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street first emerged, amounted to contempt of the House of Commons.
Those include the Prime Minister saying “no Covid rules were broken” and “all guidance was followed in No 10”. Eventually, dozens of police fines over Covid law-breaking in government buildings were issued by the Metropolitan Police.
Mr Johnson has effectively admitted that the comments have since proved incorrect but has argued that he thought they were true at the time, based on briefings from staff.
The degree to which Mr Johnson was aware of what had gone on at the dozen socialising events during lockdown in government buildings, investigated by Sue Gray, will be at the heart of the committee’s investigation.
Ms Harman, the Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham picked to head up the committee and the investigation, made contact with some potential eyewitnesses of the events last month, either directly or via intermediaries.
Three former government figures contacted have talked to The Telegraph. All three said they believed that Mr Johnson had misled Parliament – a claim he has denied.
One said: “On the facts, he was definitely at lockdown-breaking events and he knew they were happening and therefore what he said to the House was knowingly inaccurate.”
Another, when asked if Mr Johnson misled Parliament, said “absolutely, damn well he did”.
A third said of the Prime Minister’s knowledge of lockdown-breaking parties that “he knew what was going on”.
The comments are significant because if the privileges committee concludes Mr Johnson misled Parliament he could face a recall position, which would trigger a by-election in his seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip – potentially ousting him from Parliament.
The investigation is due to start gathering evidence more formally from next month, after Parliament’s summer recess. Witnesses are being offered anonymity to share what they know.
Mr Johnson has argued for months that he did not mislead Parliament and that comments which later may have been proved inaccurate were corrected in the Commons when new information emerged.
The Prime Minister’s most loyal supporters are pushing to get the investigation scrapped, arguing that the MPs sitting on the committee are biased against him.
Ms Harman, the former acting Labour leader, has in the past tweeted about people who think Mr Johnson “knowingly lied” about breaching Covid-19 rules.
On Monday, Laura Farris, the Conservative MP for Newbury, tweeted that she stepped down from the privileges committee last month. It is unclear why she took the decision.
Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary and a loyal supporter of Mr Johnson, called the committee’s investigation a “witch hunt” in a message on Twitter on Sunday:
If this witch hunt continues, it will be the most egregious abuse of power witnessed in Westminster. It will cast serious doubt not only on the reputation of individual MPs sitting on the committee, but on the processes of Parliament and democracy itself https://t.co/2Pwm7VQ7WI
— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) August 7, 2022
Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and former chairman of the privileges committee, responded on Twitter: “The real abuse of power would be suspending an inquiry to protect your mate.”
Mr Johnson was asked in April “Did you deliberately mislead the House at the despatch box?” on partygate. The Prime Minister replied: “No.”
Mr Johnson was issued one fixed penalty notice over the partygate saga, for attending a gathering for his birthday party in June 2020.