There is evidence that Boris Johnson misled MPs when he repeatedly said no lockdown rules had been broken in Downing Street, a cross-party committee has said in a damning report that no 10 officials are realistic about this insistence. are clearly struggling to resolve.
The interim report from the Conservative-majority Privileges Committee includes a witness who said Johnson told the crowded Number 10 gathering in November 2020, when strict distancing rules were in place, that “this is probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen in the UK”. The most antisocially distant gathering”.
There are also indications that authorities realized there was a problem at the gatherings months before the first reporting about them in the autumn of 2021. above and to be fair I don’t think it’s unfair”.
There are also clear indications Johnson and his government are trying to obstruct his work by withholding or redacting relevant evidence.
The report was mainly intended to guide the former prime minister on questions to be asked at an evidence session later this month, as the committee seeks to determine whether he misled Parliament.
But its 24 pages of evidence and footnotes include a wealth of newly released evidence, including witness statements and copies of internal staff messages.
In one series it is shown that Number 10 officers are trying to “put up our best possible defence” when evidence of the meetings comes to light. In response to a suggestion he described an event as “justifiably necessary for the purposes of the work”, Johnson’s then director of communications, Jack Doyle, said: “I’m struggling to come to my mind that way.” I am.”
Another message says: “Haven’t heard any explanation of how this is in the rules.”
In an account of a November 2020 incident, when restrictions banned indoor gatherings of two or more people and mandated 2 meters of distancing, Johnson delivered a speech to an aide who was “standing four or five deep”. Was going to the audience.
The report also said Johnson was believed to have regularly witnessed Friday night lockdown drinks events in the number 10 press office, and a visit by the committee proved that on his route back to his flat Till there was a line of sight in the concerned area.
In an immediate and orchestrated fightback, Johnson and supporting MPs sought to discredit the inquiry by arguing its findings were based on evidence “orchestrated” by Sue Gray, the senior Cabinet Office official who led an internal inquiry into the incidents. And who quit on Thursday. to become Chief of Staff to Keir Starmer.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Privileges Committee said: “The Committee’s report is not based on the Sue Gray report.”
The committee, chaired by Labor MP Harriet Harman, but with Conservative MPs making up four of its seven members, listed a series of social events that Johnson had attended or was aware of, and the times at which he spoke to the Commons. Told that all the rules were followed.
“There is evidence that the House of Commons may have been misled in the following ways, which the committee will investigate,” the report said.
It also said that Johnson’s government resisted giving information needed by the inquiry. MPs wrote to Johnson on 14 July last year demanding the required material, but the response in August was “such a heavy redaction of the documents as to render them devoid of any evidentiary value”.
The report states that some of the content was redacted even though it was already in the public domain. Unrestricted content was provided in November, when Rishi Sunak was at number 10.
Another section of the report states that when Johnson was asked to present evidence in person, he said he had “no relevant material”. Six months later, in response to another request, his lawyers supplied the committee with 46 WhatsApp messages between Johnson and five others.
A final conclusion is expected to take months, with Johnson expected to give evidence in the week beginning March 20. Still, the preliminary findings appear innocuous.
The report said that if the committee found that Johnson had been misleading, they would consider whether it was intentional, and what sanction might be recommended to the Commons, which could include suspension. Is.
If the suspension was for at least 10 days, or at least 14 days in total, Johnson’s constituents could demand a recall petition to remove him as their MP.
Responding to the report, Johnson claimed that it “exonerated” him. He said, ‘It is clear from this report that I have not committed any contempt of Parliament.’
“This is because there is no evidence in the report that I deliberately or recklessly misled Parliament, or that I failed to update Parliament in a timely manner. Nor is there any evidence in the report that I knew that Number 10 or Any incident that takes place in the Cabinet Office is a breach of rules or guidance.
“Like any prime minister, I relied on the advice of officials. There is no evidence that I was advised at any level, whether as a civil servant or a political advisor, that a program would be against rules or guidance before it went ahead. There is no evidence that I was later advised that any such incident was contrary to the requirements.
It is, Johnson said, “surreal to find that the committee proposes to rely on evidence handpicked and orchestrated by Sue Grey, who has just been appointed chief of staff to the leader of the Labor Party”. .
Johnson’s aides also issued statements in support of him, including Nadine Dorries, Mark Jenkinson, Peter Bone and Simon Clarke.
Clarke, a former cabinet minister, said that Gray’s appointment to Labor meant that there must be “an immediate inquiry” before the Privileges Committee inquiry could continue.
However, stopping the process would be difficult, as it would require a Commons vote. For Sunak to try to whip Conservative MPs into supporting such a plan would be too politically risky.