Boris Johnson has agreed to face a televised questioning on whether he lied to MPs over partygate next Wednesday in a hearing that will determine his political future.
The former prime minister is to appear before the cross-party Commons Privileges Committee at 2pm on March 22, it was announced on Tuesday.
Mr Johnson will need to convince the MPs he did not knowingly mislead the House with his denials of lockdown-breaching parties being held in No 10 if he is to avoid censure.
In an interim report, the Privileges Committee said the evidence strongly suggests breaches of coronavirus rules would have been “obvious” to Mr Johnson during the partygate saga.
They are examining evidence around at least four occasions when he may have deliberately misled MPs with his assurances to the Commons.
But Mr Johnson, who was fined by the Metropolitan Police for breaching his own Covid laws, has denied lying to the House and says he expects to be cleared.
The committee will publish its findings on whether Mr Johnson committed a contempt of Parliament and would make a recommendation on any punishment, but the ultimate decision would fall to the full House of Commons.
A suspension of more than 10 sitting days could lead to a by-election for Mr Johnson in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.
The former Tory leader has raised concerns over partygate investigator Sue Gray’s pending move to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s office from the civil service.
However, the committee, chaired by Labour grandee Harriet Harman but with a Conservative majority of four of its seven MPs, denied its inquiry is based on the Gray report.
Instead, the inquiry has taken evidence from witnesses’ WhatsApps, emails and photographs from a Downing Street photographer.
This week Rishi Sunak committed to giving Tories the freedom to determine Mr Johnson’s fate with their conscience.
Speaking to ITV News during a visit to San Diego, the Prime Minister insisted he would not try to exert influence over Conservatives on the committee not to impose a large punishment.
“That wouldn’t be right,” Mr Sunak said.
Asked if he was concerned about a by-election, Mr Sunak added: “This is a matter for Parliament, for the House.
“It’s not right for the Government to get involved.”