Taxpayers are on the hook for another five-figure bill to cover Boris Johnson’s legal fees during the Partygate investigation, as Rishi Sunak’s government prepares to bolster support for the former prime minister for a second time.
Labor said the move would spark outrage given the hardship experienced by many during the cost of living crisis, and the millions Johnson has earned since leaving Number 10 in September.
An inquiry into claims Johnson misled parliament by denying any Covid rules were made has been moving more slowly than expected, beset by a series of delays.
In a controversial move, senior civil servants initially signed contracts worth £129,000 to provide taxpayer-funded legal aid to Johnson during the inquiry by the Committee of Privileges.
An extension to the contract was ordered into December 2022 at an additional cost of £90,000.
The Guardian has been told the contract will be renewed as it is due to expire on 28 February, potentially at a five-figure cost.
No official date has yet been set for the public hearing at which Boris Johnson will be called to give evidence. Authorities are also preparing to summon Cabinet Secretary Simon Case for questioning.
Sources have said that the committee is expected to start its television sessions in March.
Government insiders argue that Johnson’s legal advice contract is being extended because of the slow pace of the Privileges Committee’s investigation. But that defense has been criticized because the Cabinet Office itself has been accused of stalling progress by taking four months to hand over a huge body of evidence.
Labor’s deputy leader Angela Rayner criticized Johnson’s decision to pay £220,000 on legal fees, with a further sum likely to cover the next expected expansion.
She told the Guardian: “Ministers must be clear on the nature of this contract, explain by whom it was agreed and why it was allowed to continue unchecked under Rishi Sunak’s watch.
“As families up and down the country worry about paying their bills, they will be rightly angered at the prospect of Boris Johnson footing the partygate defense fund bill again. Rishi Sunak is once again showing that he is too weak to stop it.”
The Cabinet Office declined to comment or speculate on the contract, as it is a commercial matter.
The government has repeatedly stated that there is an “established precedent” that former ministers can be supported with legal representation after leaving office, when there are matters relating to their work in government.
After leaving Downing Street, Johnson wasted no time in getting paid for speeches and a book deal on his memoirs.
He has declared additional earnings of £4,785,292 in the months since leaving office.
A source close to Johnson said he was continuing to cooperate with the committee, but claimed it had yet to rely on any evidence.
The former prime minister said earlier this month that anyone who thought he was “knowingly going to parties breaking lockdown rules in Number 10” or covering gatherings was “out of their mind”. Was.
An attempt to launch a judicial review of Scotland Yard’s investigation into Partygate failed on Wednesday after a judge rejected an application brought by the Good Law Project which claimed some key lapses by the Operation Hillman team Was
Danny Freedman Casey argued that it was “illogical” that the police had not issued a questionnaire to Johnson for the three incidents in which it was later revealed he had taken part, or that he had been involved, despite other Downing Street staff were given fixed-penalty notices. , He said that the Meteorological Department has not disclosed its reasoning behind any decision.
But the judge rejected the application, saying police were clear there was no “one-size-fits-all” approach to dealing with people alleged to be breaking Covid rules, and said there was no rational explanation for any legal loopholes. Wasn’t the case.
Johnson received a fine for a birthday gathering held for him in the Cabinet Room on 19 June 2020.