Boris Johnson will give ‘robust defence’ of his actions at Partygate, minister says ahead of the ex-premier’s four-hour grilling session by MPs this week – with blurry photos in issue #10 that will form the backbone of his 50-page defense case
- The former prime minister will claim that he was given clear advice meetings that fell within the rules
- He could also question the fairness of the Commons Privileges Committee
Boris Johnson will “robustly defend” his actions during the Partygate scandal, a top minister said today ahead of the ex-premier’s marathon grill by MPs this week.
The former prime minister has prepared an extensive trial ahead of his four-hour appearance before the Privileges Committee on Wednesday, allies say.
He is expected to argue that he was given clear advice at the time that lockdown meetings in Downing Street were within Covid rules, which will be made public in the coming days.
His defense is also expected to question the fairness of the Commons Privileges Committee, which could decide his political fate when it questions him.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden told Sky News on Sunday: “I am sure Boris Johnson will defend himself firmly and then it will be for the committee to determine the outcome.”
Asked whether there will be a free vote for Conservative MPs if the committee recommends sanctions, Mr Dowden said this is ‘standard practice’ in House matters.
“I’m not sure if any final decisions have been made, but that would be the precedent we expect to follow,” he said.
Photos of Mr Johnson and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case surrounded by Downing Street staff – the other faces blurred for anonymity – are at the heart of his defense that he did not deliberately mislead the House about Covid-era partying at No. 10.
Sources claim that none of the more than two dozen No. 10 staff who testified before the committee – many of whom are in the photos – told MPs they believed they were breaking the rules.
SPEECH: Official photo of Mr. Johnson’s June 2020 birthday. 10 blurred the faces of other staff except Simon Case
Boris Johnson pictured here at the meeting at No10 on June 19, 2020, with then Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Mr Johnson is also likely to argue that the meetings were held to try and boost morale in Number 10, which was hit by waves of illness and contributed to a stressful work environment.
A source said: ‘People were dropping like flies. People worked long hours under stressful conditions and Boris wanted them to stay cheerful and motivated.
“Those people in the photos used the same offices and the same bathrooms, opened the same doors, used the same printers, copiers and telephones, and breathed the same air 16 hours a day in that unventilated Victorian building.
“The fact that many photos were taken by [official photographer] Andy Parsons and posted on Flickr No. 10 shows that we thought we had nothing to hide.”
Mr Johnson’s defiance underlines the stakes at stake this week during his televised public hearing, which could last up to four hours.
The committee, made up of four Tories, two Labor MPs and an SNP MP, could recommend a 10-day suspension of the House of Commons if it believes he has deliberately misled MPs – a sanction that could lead to by-elections in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip chair.
Last night, sources close to the committee responded to claims by former Home Secretary Priti Patel about a “culture of collusion” and lack of objectivity following negative comments from members about Mr Johnson.
A source said talk of collusion was “absolute assholes” and rejected any suggestion that the committee had already made a decision on the ex-premier’s conduct.
The then Prime Minister pictured raising a glass to Number 10 at a rally marking the departure of a Special Adviser on November 13, 2020
The committee hearing coincides with a vote on an aspect of Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit Northern Ireland deal with the EU that Johnson’s supporters expect will play into their hands.
A source said: “Many of those who feel Boris has been mistreated are annoyed by elements of the deal, and it will fuel rebellion.”
There is anger among Johnson’s allies over Sunak’s decision to allow his party to vote freely on the results of the commission’s investigation.
A senior Tory said: “If the prime minister is not prepared to support his predecessor facing a kangaroo court, that’s serious.”
Mr Johnson’s allies also believe the row over Partygate investigator Sue Gray accepting a senior Labor job will increase his chances of successfully claiming he has been the victim of a ‘stitching’.
However, the commission said its first report this month was “not based on Sue Gray’s report,” but on other evidence, including material provided by the government.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: ‘The committee will rule in favor of Boris Johnson. The evidence will show that Boris Johnson did not knowingly mislead Parliament.”