Boris Johnson’s allies warn Tory MPs they face DESELECTION by furious activists if they back brutal Partygate report finding the ex-PM lied and deserved a 90-DAY suspension – as crunch vote looms on Monday
- Commons Privileges Committee has finally delivered verdict on Boris Johnson
The Tories plunged into full civil war today as Boris Johnson’s allies warned MPs face deselection if they back a brutal report condemning him over Partygate.
After 14 months of investigation, the Privileges Committee concluded that the ex-PM ‘deliberately misled’ Parliament about lockdown breaches in Downing Street.
It said he had been ‘disingenuous’ and if he had not already quit the House he should have been suspended for 90 days. That could have been the longest punishment since Keith Vaz in 2019.
Boris Johnson Partygate report – key points:
- The Privileges Committee said that if he had not resigned last week Mr Johnson should have been suspended from the Commons for 90 days
- The Privileges Committee said Boris Johnson committed a ‘serious contempt of the House’ through his Partygate denials.
- That section would have taken into account his attacks on the committee as a ‘kangaroo court’ in recent days
- Only Keith Vaz, the Labour MP who was banned for six months over a drug-fuelled gathering with male prostitutes’, has been barred for longer
- The Committee suggested Mr Johnson should be barred from having a parliamentary pass, which is normally available to former MPs.
The report also said Mr Johnson had undermined ‘democratic institutions’, and should be banned from getting a former MP pass for the Parliamentary estate.
But a titanic battle is now raging, with Mr Johnson and his allies accusing the cross-party group – which has a Labour chair but a Tory majority among the seven members – of ‘monstrous hypocrisy’ and bias against him.
A crucial debate and vote will be held on the report on Monday – Mr Johnson’s birthday. As Opposition parties are backing the verdict, the result is not in doubt, but Conservatives who fail to support him are being threatened with deselection.
In a statement, Mr Johnson dismissed the findings as ‘tripe’ and ‘deranged’, saying the committee was ‘beneath contempt’ and part of a ‘protracted political assassination’.
He demanded senior Tory Sir Bernard Jenkin follow him in resigning after allegations emerged that he attended a drinks party for his wife in Parliament during lockdown.
‘Why was it illegal for me to thank staff and legal for Sir Bernard to attend his wife’s birthday party?’ Mr Johnson said.
‘The hypocrisy is rank. Like Harriet Harman, he should have recused himself from the inquiry, since he is plainly conflicted.’
In a highly personal attack on Sir Bernard, known as a naturist, Mr Johnson said the committee’s argument was ‘so threadbare that it belongs in one of Bernard Jenkin’s nudist colonies’.
Rishi Sunak desperately dodged questions about the row on a visit to Harrow this morning. Downing Street said he had not read the document yet.
Declaring that the vote will not be whipped, Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt appealed for respect among Conservatives: ‘All of us must do what we think is right and others must leave us alone to do so.’
But former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries said: ‘Any Conservative MP who would vote for this report is fundamentally not a Conservative and will be held to account by members and the public.’
In other fallout today:
- The Lib Dems have called for Mr Johnson to be stripped of the £115,000 a year ‘public duty allowance’ for ex-PMs to run an office;
- The committee said the government had been provided it with evidence about 16 other events at Chequers and Downing Street that had been assessed as ‘reasonably’ likely to be a breach of Covid rules;
- The committee has vowed to hold a separate investigation into efforts to undermine it by Mr Johnson’s allies;
- Fresh evidence in the report included testimony from a No10 whistleblower who claimed that ‘Wine Time Fridays’ were a diaried event for the press office throughout the pandemic.
MPs triggered a political earthquake today by finding Boris Johnson lied to the Commons over Partygate
After 14 months of investigation, the Privileges Committee concluded in a bombshell report that the ex-PM ‘deliberately misled’ Parliament
Rishi Sunak desperately dodged questions on the row on a visit to Harrow this morning
Boris Johnson at a leaving gathering in the Downing Street press office in November 2020
The report included some new evidence, including testimony from one official who said ‘Wine Time Fridays’ were a diaried event in No10 throughout the pandemic
In a brutal 108-page report, the committee said: ‘We conclude that when he told the House and this Committee that the rules and guidance were being complied with, his own knowledge was such that he deliberately misled the House and this committee.’
The report said: ‘We came to the view that some of Mr Johnson’s denials and explanations were so disingenuous that they were by their very nature deliberate attempts to mislead the committee and the House, while others demonstrated deliberation because of the frequency with which he closed his mind to the truth.’
The MPs said that Mr Johnson’s actions had been aggravated by ‘repeated contempts and for seeking to undermine the parliamentary process’.
It spelled out that the breaches were ‘deliberately misleading the House’, ‘deliberately misleading the Committee’, ‘breaching confidence’, ‘impugning the Committee and thereby undermining the democratic process of the House’, and ‘being complicit in the campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the Committee’.
The report added: ‘We recommend that he should not be entitled to a former Member’s pass.’
MPs hit with the longest Commons suspensions
The 90-day suspension the Commons Privileges Committee recommended for Boris Johnson ranks high in the list of punishments meted out to MPs.
But like many of the other big sanctions through history, it will never be formally implemented because he has already quit.
Former Labour MP Keith Vaz was handed a six-month suspension in 2019, which was approved by the House.
In 2014 the watchdog called for a six-month suspension for Tory Patrick Mercer, but he stood down before it was signed off.
The Standards Committee recommended a 12-month punishment for Denis Macshane in 2012, but he immediately resigned.
The last MP expelled from the House was Gary Allingham in 1947.
The report said Mr Johnson ‘had knowledge of the Covid Rules and Guidance’, ‘had knowledge of breaches of the Rules and Guidance that occurred in No10’.
The MPs found he misled the House ‘when he said that Guidance was followed completely in No. 10, that the Rules and Guidance were followed at all times, that events in No10 were within the Rules and Guidance, and that the Rules and Guidance had been followed at all times when he was present at gatherings’.
They made the same finding about ‘when he failed to tell the House about his own knowledge of the gatherings where rules or guidance had been broken’ and ‘when he said that he relied on repeated assurances that the rules had not been broken’.
‘The assurances he received were not accurately represented by him to the House, nor were they appropriate to be cited to the House as an authoritative indication of No10’s compliance with Covid restrictions,’ the report said.
Mr Johnson was also accused of misleading the Commons ‘when he gave the impression that there needed to be an investigation by Sue Gray before he could answer questions when he had personal knowledge that he did not reveal’, and ‘when he purported to correct the record but instead continued to mislead the House and, by his continuing denials, this Committee’.
The ex-PM was also lambasted as ‘deliberately disingenuous when he tried to reinterpret his statements to the House to avoid their plain meaning and reframe the clear impression that he intended to give’. That was ‘when he advanced unsustainable interpretations of the Rules and Guidance to advance the argument that the lack of social distancing at gatherings was permissible within the exceptions which allowed for gatherings’ and ‘advanced legally impermissible reasons to justify the gatherings’.
The committee considered whether it should have recommended expelling Mr Johnson from the Commons altogether.
During discussion of the report’s final findings, the SNP’s Allan Dorans and Labour’s Yvonne Fovargue backed the stronger sanction.
But the four Tory members of the committee – Sir Bernard, Sir Charles Walker, Andy Carter and Alberto Costa – opposed the amendment.
Mr Johnson, has always denied deliberately misleading MPs, but dramatically quit as an MP on Friday after receiving a draft version of the report.
The committee said: ‘On Thursday 8 June 2023 we sent by email to Mr Johnson’s solicitors the Chair’s warning letter, and immediately despatched by hand a single hardcopy document containing extracts from the Committee’s provisionally agreed draft report, for inspection by Mr Johnson and his nominated legal advisers under secure invigilated conditions.
‘Each page of this document was marked as follows: PRIVILEGED AND IN STRICT CONFIDENCE–FOR THE USE OF MR JOHNSON AND HIS NOMINATED LEGAL ADVISERS ONLY
‘It is a contempt of the House to reveal the contents of this document. There are no other physical copies of the document in existence and the document is only made available for inspection under invigilated conditions. It must not be copied. The Committee of Privileges will consider final submissions about the content of the document before it publishes its final report to the House.’
The report highlighted new allegations that Mr Johnson breached Covid rules.
‘On 18 May 2023 the Government, without prior notice to us, supplied us with new evidence relating to 16 gatherings at No10 and at Chequers,’ the report said.
‘Accompanying this was a statement by the Government that: ‘As part of their work preparing Boris Johnson’s witness statement for the Covid Inquiry (due to be filed on 29 May), the counsel team supporting Mr Johnson identified a number of diary entries as potentially problematic.
Whistleblower says No10’s ‘Wine Time Fridays’ carried on throughout lockdown
Inside No10 was an ‘oasis of normality’ where Covid rules went ignored while staff were warned to watch out for cameras outside, an official has said.
In written evidence to the Privileges Committee, the worker said ‘Wine Time Fridays’ and birthday parties continued as normal while the rest of the country faced harsh restrictions on socialising.
The official said they asked if masks should be worn in March 2020 but was told there was ‘no point’ – a remark they described as ‘part of a wider culture of not adhering to any rules’.
But security urged staff to be ‘mindful’ of potential scrutiny outside the building, urging them to follow guidance when they left, the official said.
‘No10 was like an island oasis of normality. Operational notes were sent out from the security team to be mindful of the cameras outside the door, not to go out in groups and to social distance. It was all pantomime,’ the statement reads.
‘Birthday parties, leaving parties and end-of-week gatherings all continued as normal. Those responsible for the leadership of No 10 failed to keep it a safe space and should have set rules from the start that these gatherings should not continue.
‘It was only more than a year into the pandemic that No 10 set up a one-way system and desk divider screens.’
‘These entries […] are based on an assessment by Government Legal Department as to events/activities which could reasonably be considered to constitute breaches of Covid Regulations.’
The committee said it had received a response from Mr Johnson that the events were all within the rules, and had not looked into the matter further to avoid delaying its findings.
The former Conservative leader’s resignation means he will not serve the lengthy suspension recommended – which is far above the 10 days that could have sparked a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.
His decision to quit pre-empted such an outcome, with his constituents to go to the polls next month in a major electoral challenge for Mr Sunak.
Mr Johnson’s ally Nigel Adams also stepped down and his arch-supporter Nadine Dorries has announced she will go too, though her demands for answers about why she was denied a peerage before she formally quits as an MP look set to prolong the by-election struggle for the Prime Minister.
The MPs on the panel rejected his defence that senior officials ‘repeatedly’ advised him Covid rules and guidance had been followed in No 10.
It highlighted that one senior aide warned him against claiming to the Commons that social distancing guidelines were observed.
Some of Mr Johnson’s supporters made their views known about the findings today.
Former culture secretary Ms Dorries said: ‘Any Conservative MP who would vote for this report is fundamentally not a Conservative and will be held to account by members and the public. Deselections may follow. It’s serious.
‘MPs will now have to show this committee what real justice looks like and how it’s done.’
Tory MP Mark Jenkinson tweeted: ‘This is gross overreach, which undermines the integrity of the committee and of parliament.
‘The removal of a former members (sic) pass is nothing short of vindictive.’
Mr Johnson said last night that Tory grandee Sir Bernard Jenkin should step down from the committee over claims he had taken part in a lockdown-busting event.
Sir Bernard is reported to have attended a drinks party held by Commons Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing in December 2020, while London was in Tier 2 measures restricting indoor mixing. The event is said to have been a 65th birthday party for Sir Bernard’s wife Anne, at which both drinks and cake were served.
Neither Sir Bernard nor Dame Eleanor responded to requests for comment about the story, which first appeared on the Guido Fawkes website.
A file picture of Bernard Jenkin and his wife Anne. The Tory MP has been accused of attending a drinks do at Parliament during lockdown
The Commons Privileges Committee inquiry has been chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman
Some of Mr Johnson’s allies took to Twitter today to make clear their views on the report
Tory MP James Duddridge jibed that the committee seemed to want to ‘put Boris in the stocks’
The matter has been referred to both the Metropolitan Police and the Commons authorities.
In a letter to Labour chair Harriet Harman, Mr Johnson said Sir Bernard appeared to be guilty of ‘flagrant and monstrous hypocrisy’ – and questioned whether its report into his own conduct could still be considered reliable.
In a separate statement, Mr Johnson added: ‘He has no choice but to explain his actions to his own committee, for his colleagues to investigate and then to resign.’
Former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries called for the report to be halted. ‘If this is true then the report should be stopped,’ she said. ‘We cannot know what influence Sir Bernard had on its findings, and without that the report cannot stand.’
Asked about the furore on a visit to Harrow this morning, Mr Sunak said: ‘You are talking about a report that I haven’t seen and that no one else has seen. It wouldn’t be right to comment on it in advance of it coming out and being published.’
He added: ‘These are matters for the House of Commons, and Parliament will deal with it in the way that it does.’
Mr Sunak was also asked if he was ‘frustrated’ by Mr Johnson’s interventions in the past week.
‘No, I’m just getting on with delivering for the country,’ he said.
Home Office minister Chris Philp argued the MPs, including Tory former Cabinet minister Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg who branded it a ‘kangaroo court’, should not be censured.
‘Although I don’t characterise the committee in those terms, I think people are free to express their opinions,’ he told ITV’s Peston.
‘I don’t think we should be trying to sort of muzzle MPs.’
Boris Johnson’s furious response to the Privileges Committee in full
It is now many months since people started to warn me about the intentions of the Privileges Committee. They told me that it was a kangaroo court. They told me that it was being driven relentlessly by the political agenda of Harriet Harman, and supplied with skewed legal advice – with the sole political objective of finding me guilty and expelling me from parliament.
They also warned me that most members had already expressed prejudicial views – especially Harriet Harman – in a way that would not be tolerated in a normal legal process. Some alarmists even pointed out that the majority of the Committee voted remain and they stressed that Bernard Jenkin’s personal antipathy to me was historic and well-known.
To be frank, when I first heard these warnings, I was incredulous. When it was first proposed that there should be such an inquiry by this committee, I thought it was just some time-wasting procedural stunt by the Labour party.
I didn’t think for one minute that a committee of MPs could find against me on the facts, and I didn’t see how any reasonable person could fail to understand what had happened.
I knew exactly what events I had attended in Number 10. I knew what I had seen, with my own eyes, and like the current PM, I believed that these events were lawful. I believed that my participation was lawful, and required by my job; and that is indeed the implication of the exhaustive police inquiry.
The only exception is the June 19 2020 event, the so-called birthday party, when I and the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak were fined in circumstances that I still find puzzling (I had lunch at my desk with people I worked with every day).
So when on Dec 1 2021 I told the House of Commons that ‘the guidance was followed completely’ (in Number Ten) I meant it. It wasn’t just what I thought: it’s what we all thought – that we were following the rules and following the guidance completely – notwithstanding the difficulties of maintaining social distancing at all times.
The committee now says that I deliberately misled the House, and at the moment I spoke I was consciously concealing from the House my knowledge of illicit events.
This is rubbish. It is a lie. In order to reach this deranged conclusion, the Committee is obliged to say a series of things that are patently absurd, or contradicted by the facts.
First, they say that I must have known that the farewell events I attended were not authorised workplace events because – wait for it – NO SUCH EVENT could lawfully have taken place, anywhere in this country, under the Committee’s interpretation of covid rules. This is transparently wrong. I believed, correctly, that these events were reasonably necessary for work purposes. We were managing a pandemic. We had hundreds of staff engaged in what was sometimes a round-the-clock struggle against covid. Their morale mattered for that fight. It was important for me to thank them.
But don’t just listen to me. Take it from the Metropolitan Police. The police investigated my role at all of those events. In no case did they find that what I had done was unlawful. Above all it did not cross my mind – as I spoke in the House of Commons – that the events were unlawful.
I believed that we were working, and we were: talking for the main about nothing except work, mainly covid. Why would I have set out, in the Chamber, to conceal my knowledge of something illicit, if that account could be so readily contradicted by others? Why would we have had an official photographer if we believed we were breaking the law?
We didn’t believe that what we were doing was wrong, and after a year of work the Privileges Committee has found not a shred of evidence that we did.
Their argument can be boiled down to: ‘Look at this picture – that’s Boris Johnson with a glass in his hand. He must have known that the event was illegal. Therefore he lied.’
That is a load of complete tripe. That picture was me, in my place of work, trying to encourage and thank my officials in a way that I believed was crucial for the government and for the country as a whole, and in a way which I believed to be wholly within the rules.
For the Committee now to say that all such events – ‘thank-yous’ and birthdays – were intrinsically illegal is ludicrous, contrary to the intentions of those who made the rules (including me), and contrary to the findings of the Met; and above all I did not for one moment think they were illicit – at the time or when I spoke in the Commons.
The Committee cannot possibly believe the conclusions of their own report – because it has now emerged that Sir Bernard Jenkin attended at least one ‘birthday event’, on Dec 8 2020 – the birthday of his wife Anne – when it is alleged that alcohol and food were served and the numbers exceeded six indoors.
Why was it illegal for me to thank staff and legal for Sir Bernard to attend his wife’s birthday party?
The hypocrisy is rank. Like Harriet Harman, he should have recused himself from the inquiry, since he is plainly conflicted.
The rest of the Committee’s report is mainly a rehash of their previous non-points. They have nothing new of substance to say. They concede that they have found no evidence that I was warned, before or after an event, that it was illegal. That is surely very telling. If we had genuinely believed these events to be unauthorised – with all the political sensitivities entailed – then there would be some trace in all the thousands of messages sent to me, and to which the committee has had access.
It is preposterous to say, as the Committee does, that people were just too scared to mention concerns to their superiors. Really? Was Simon Case too scared to draw his concerns to my attention? Was Sue Gray or Rishi Sunak?
The Committee concedes that the guidance permitted social distancing of less than 1 m where there was no alternative – though they refuse to take account of all the other mitigations – including regular testing – that we put in place.
They keep wilfully missing the point. The question is not whether perfect social distancing was maintained at all times in Number ten – clearly that wasn’t possible, as I have said very often. The question is whether I believed, given the limitations of the building, we were doing enough, with mitigations, to follow the guidance – and I did, and so did everyone else.
They grudgingly accept that I was right to tell the Commons that I was repeatedly assured that the rules were followed in respect of the Dec 18 event in the media room, but they try, absurdly and incoherently, to say that the assurances of Jack Doyle and James Slack were not enough to constitute ‘repeated’ assurances – completely and deliberately ignoring the sworn testimony of two MPs, Andrew Griffiths and Sarah Dines, who have also said that they heard me being given such assurances.
Perhaps the craziest assertion of all is the Committee’s Mystic Meg claim that I saw the Dec 18 event with my own eyes. They say, without any evidence whatever, that at 21.58pm, on that date, my eyes for one crucial second glanced over to the media room as I went up to the flat – and that I saw what I recognised as an unauthorised event in progress.
First, the Committee has totally ignored the general testimony about that evening, which is that people were working throughout, even if some had been drinking at their desks. How on earth do these clairvoyants know exactly what was going on at 21.58?
How do they know what I saw? What retinal impressions have they somehow discovered, that are completely unavailable to me? I saw no goings on at all in the press room, or none that I can remember, certainly nothing illegal.
As the Committee has heard, officials were heavily engaged in preparing difficult messaging about the prospect of a No-deal Brexit and a Christmas lockdown.
It is a measure of the Committee’s desperation that they are trying incompetently and absurdly to tie me to an illicit event – with an argument so threadbare that it belongs in one of Bernard Jenkin’s nudist colonies.
Their argument is that I saw this event, believed it to be illegal, and had it in my head when I spoke to the House. On all three counts they are talking out of the backs of their necks. If I did see an illegal event, and register it as illegal, then why was I on my own in this? Why not the Cabinet Secretary, or Sue Gray, or the then Chancellor, who was patrolling the same corridors at the time?
The committee is imputing to me and me alone a secret knowledge of illegal events that was somehow not shared by any other official or minister in Number Ten. That is utterly incredible. That is the artifice.
This report is a charade. I was wrong to believe in the Committee or its good faith. The terrible truth is that it is not I who has twisted the truth to suit my purposes. It is Harriet Harman and her Committee.
This is a dreadful day for MPs and for democracy. This decision means that no MP is free from vendetta, or expulsion on trumped up charges by a tiny minority who want to see him or her gone from the Commons.
I do not have the slightest contempt for parliament, or for the important work that should be done by the Privileges Committee.
But for the Privileges Committee to use its prerogatives in this anti-democratic way, to bring about what is intended to be the final knife-thrust in a protracted political assassination – that is beneath contempt.
It is for the people of this country to decide who sits in parliament, not Harriet Harman.
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