Boris Johnson's legal fees could cost taxpayer more than £222,000, says top civil servant
The government could spend more than £222,000 of public money on legal advice for Boris Johnson as he faces an investigation into whether he deliberately misled parliament over what he knew about partygate, a senior civil servant has confirmed.
The Privileges Committee is looking into the former prime minister after his repeated denials to the Commons about lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, which later were proved to have taken place over the pandemic.
Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak were among those fined by the police for taking part, with a total of 126 fixed penalty notices issued, covering at least eight events.
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The cross-party committee of MPs confirmed its investigation in April last year and has been gathering evidence since, with hearings expected to take place in the coming months.
But as it covers a period when Mr Johnson was in office, he is entitled for his legal costs to be covered by the taxpayer.
Appearing in front of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) on Thursday, the Cabinet Office's permanent secretary Alex Chisholm confirmed £222,000 had already been spent on providing legal advice to the ex-PM.
But asked if there was a cap on that price, he said no, and that the figure could increase depending on how long the investigation takes.
"At the moment we have estimated that it would be up to a figure of £200,000, which has been published - £222,000 to be precise," said Mr Chisholm.
"We hope and expect that will be a maximum figure, but obviously we don't want to anticipate and certainly could not regulate the conduct of the committee, which is entirely up to them."
The Liberal Democrats condemned the government fund for Mr Johnson, deeming it a "cost-of-lying crisis".
MP Wendy Chamberlain said: "People will be outraged that hundreds of thousands of pounds of their money will be used to defend a lying lawbreaker who disgraced the office of prime minister.
"Rishi Sunak needs to step in immediately, stop this fund and apologise for his government's chaotic track record of defending the indefensible."
The contracts with Peters and Peters which have already been paid are published on the government website and cover legal advice from leading KC Lord Pannick.
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His first legal opinion was also published on the government's website last September, claiming the Privileges Committee was adopting an "unfair procedure" and a "fundamentally flawed" approach.
But the committee rejected his claim, saying it was based on "a systemic misunderstanding of the parliamentary process and misplaced analogies with the criminal law".
Lord Pannick has also given a second legal opinion on the inquiry, but this has not been published.
Appearing alongside Mr Chisholm at Thursday's PACAC meeting, Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden agreed with MPs that it was "unusual" for such legal advice to be published and could not explain why the second opinion remained under wraps.