Boris Johnson will give a ‘strong defence’ of his actions during Partygate, the minister has said ahead of the ex-PM’s four-hour marathon grilled by MPs this week – with blurry photos inside the n ° 10 which will form the backbone of his 50-page defense brief
- The ex-PM is set to argue that he received clear advice that the gatherings were within the rules
- He could also question the fairness of the Commons Privileges Committee
Boris Johnson will give a ‘strong defence’ of his actions during the Partygate scandal, a senior minister said today ahead of MPs’ marathon grilling of the ex-PM this week.
The former prime minister has compiled a full legal brief ahead of his four-hour appearance before the Privileges Committee on Wednesday, allies claim.
He is expected to argue that he received clear advice at the time that lockdown gatherings in Downing Street were in line with Covid rules, which will be made public in the coming days.
His defense is also expected to challenge the fairness of the Commons Privileges Committee, which could decide his political fate when questioned.
On Sunday, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Oliver Dowden, told Sky News: ‘I’m sure Boris Johnson will defend himself strongly and then it will be for the committee to determine the outcome.
Asked if there would be a free vote for Tory MPs if the committee recommended sanctions, Mr Dowden said it was “standard practice” on House questions.
“I’m not sure any final decisions have been made, but that would be the precedent we would 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 – form the core of his defense that he did not intentionally mislead the House about the Covid era parties at No 10.
Sources say none of the more than two dozen No 10 employees who testified before the committee – many of whom were pictured – told MPs they thought they were breaking the rules.
SPEECH: Official photo from Mr Johnson’s birthday in June 2020. No10 blurred the faces of other staff, apart from Simon Case
Boris Johnson pictured here at the rally at No 10 on June 19, 2020, with then Chancellor Rishi Sunak
Mr Johnson is also likely to argue that the rallies were held in an attempt to boost the morale of No 10 who had been hit by waves of illness and contributed to a stressful working environment.
A source said: “People were dropping like flies. People were working long hours in stressful conditions, and Boris wanted them to stay cheerful and motivated.
“These people in the photos used the same offices and the same bathrooms, opened the same doors, used the same printers, photocopiers and telephones and breathed the same air in this unventilated Victorian building for 16 hours a day.
‘The fact that many photos were taken by [official photographer] Andy Parsons and placed on Flickr account No 10 shows that we didn’t think we had anything to hide.
Mr Johnson’s challenge underscores the issues at stake this week in his televised public interrogation, which could last four hours.
The committee, which is made up of four Tory, two Labor MPs and an SNP MP, can recommend a ten-day recess in the House of Commons if it believes he has intentionally misled MPs – a sanction which could lead to a by-election in its Uxbridge and South Seat Ruislip.
Last night sources close to the committee hit back at former Home Secretary Priti Patel’s claims of a ‘culture of collusion’ and lack of objectivity after members made negative comments about Mr Johnson.
A source said talk of collusion was ‘absolute b******s’ and dismissed any suggestion that the committee’s decision had already been made on the behavior of the ex-prime minister.
The then Prime Minister pictured raising a glass to No 10 during a rally to mark the departure of a special adviser on November 13, 2020
The committee hearing coincides with a vote on one aspect of Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit deal on Northern Ireland with the EU, which Mr Johnson’s supporters expect to play into their hands.
A source said: ‘A lot of people who think Boris has been treated badly are annoyed by elements of the deal, and that’s going to fuel the rebellion.’
Mr Johnson’s allies are angry at Mr Sunak’s decision to allow his party to vote freely on the results of the commission’s inquiry.
A senior Tory official said: ‘If the Prime Minister is unwilling to support his predecessor who is appearing in kangaroo court, that is serious.
Mr Johnson’s allies also believe the row over Partygate investigator Sue Gray, who has accepted a senior Labor post, boosts his chances of successfully arguing that he was victim of a “sewing”.
However, the committee said its initial 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 vindicate Boris Johnson. The evidence will show that Boris Johnson did not knowingly mislead Parliament.