The Partygate investigation into the Prime Minister has been branded an “obscene abuse of power” by ministers.
Boris Johnson’s allies in Government have questioned the need for the House of Commons’ privileges committee to continue looking into his denials that he broke Covid restrictions during lockdown.
The Prime Minister is due to leave Downing Street in less than a month, while the committee’s work is expected to go on for months while he sits on the backbenches.
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, the environment and international development minister, hit out at the investigation on Twitter:
The Partygate probe is clearly rigged.
It is a jury comprised of highly partisan, vengeful & vindictive MPs, nearly all of whom are already on the record viciously attacking the person they are judging. It is an obscene abuse of power. https://t.co/hr4CrNkler
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) August 7, 2022
The investigation is being led by Harriet Harman, who served as Labour leader after Gordon Brown stepped down in 2010, as well as MPs from other parties from the Commons.
Downing Street sources have previously told The Telegraph that they believe it would be a “kangaroo court” which was based on hearsay evidence from witnesses who were granted anonymity.
Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, who is expected to be given a seat in the House of Lords following her continued support for Boris Johnson while his own MPs called for him to resign, said that the investigation called Parliament’s integrity into question.
She also took to Twitter to voice her concerns:
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
The Privileges Committee has called for those with knowledge of the 12 alleged parties in Westminster to come forward to give evidence – including former staff such as civil servants – and have been granted anonymity.
A privileges committee spokesperson said: “In advance of considering evidence, the Committee last month published a report setting out the processes and procedures for this inquiry and the impartial advice it has received to ensure the process is fair. Based on this advice, the report states that, if the Committee decides the evidence of witnesses who will give evidence only on condition of anonymity is necessary to its work, they will both protect the identity of such witnesses and ensure the individual under investigation is aware of the content of the evidence and able to challenge it.”
The MPs have also written to senior Whitehall figures and Downing Street to gain access to Boris Johnson’s diaries, as well as emails, photographs and a list of deleted documents.
If the committee found that he misled Parliament, then he could face a suspension from the Commons.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, has ruled that if Mr Johnson is banned for 10 days or more, this could trigger a “recall” by-election if more than 10 per cent of the now-Prime Minister’s constituents sign a petition calling for one.
Boris Johnson only has a majority of 7,210 votes from the 2019 election in his seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, some 15,000 fewer than the Tiverton and Honiton by-election that the Conservatives lost earlier this year.