Boris Johnson allies accuse committee of ‘sitting on’ key partygate evidence

·3-min read
Boris Johnson - Geoff Pugh for The Telegraph
Boris Johnson - Geoff Pugh for The Telegraph

Allies of Boris Johnson allies have accused MPs investigating whether he misled Parliament over partygate of deliberately “sitting on” evidence that would exonerate him.

The former prime minister submitted his legal case, said to run to between 50 and 60 pages, to the privileges committee early on Monday afternoon.

It includes “bombshell” evidence, including text messages his camp say show that he was assured gatherings in Downing Street did not breach lockdown restrictions.

Mr Johnson is facing an investigation into whether he “knowingly or recklessly” misled Parliament by telling MPs at the time that no Covid rules were broken. He will appear before the committee on Wednesday in a televised grilling expected to last between two and four hours.

If it rules against him, the committee may recommend sanctions including expulsion from the Commons. These would require approval from MPs, with Number 10 confirming that Tory backbenchers will have a free vote.

Allies have already hit out at the inquiry, which starts hearings on Wednesday and is being headed by Harriet Harman, as a “farce” and a “Labour campaign” to oust him. But the privileges committee, of which four of seven members are Tory MPs, insists it will take an even-handed approach.

Mr Johnson’slegal team, headed by Lord Pannick KC, handed over the defence dossier shortly after lunch on Monday. The committee plans to publish it as quickly as possible but will first have to check the document for material that cannot be publicly disclosed.

However, Mr Johnson’s camp is frustrated it has not been able to release what it regards as its best evidence.

A source close to the defence team said: “Boris Johnson urges the committee to publish this material as soon as possible. There’s a lot of evidence in the committee’s evidence pool that makes the case Boris didn’t knowingly mislead Parliament, and it needs to be published so people can see that and make their minds up.”

A former minister said: “It’s a shame the committee is sitting on Boris’s evidence. They have previously cherry-picked evidence that they liked rather than letting Boris get his case out there. Boris’s evidence should be published without delay so everyone can see how Boris did not knowingly mislead Parliament.”

Mr Johnson’s allies have pointed to previous comments by Ms Harman in which she suggested that he had misled Parliament.

Nadine Dorries, a former culture secretary, accused the veteran Labour backbencher of an “assumption of guilt”, while one former Cabinet minister said the investigation was “a sham and a disgrace” in light of her previous remarks.

Sir James Duddridge, a close political ally of Mr Johnson, warned that the inquiry could have a chilling effect on what ministers are prepared to tell the Commons.

“If they say misleading the House in itself, even in error, is something that is sanctionable, that is ludicrous,” he told The Telegraph. “If ministers and the PM cannot rely on Number 10’s advice at any given time, it will always strangle ministers from saying anything at the Despatch Box of interest.”

A privileges committee spokesman said the committee “can confirm it received written evidence from Boris Johnson MP at 2.32pm on Monday”.

The spokesman added: “The committee will need to review what has been submitted in the interests of making appropriate redactions to protect the identity of some witnesses. The committee intends to publish this as soon as is practicably possible. The material will be published on the committee website.”