Boris Johnson partygate: when will ex-PM be questioned by MPs on privileges committee?

MPs on the privileges committee will grill Johnson for several hours over the partygate scandal

Boris Johnson will be questioned by MPs later today over whether he lied to Parliament about the partygate scandal.

The former PM is due to face the privileges committee on Wednesday in what is likely to be a fraught session, with Johnson expected to deny that he knowingly misled MPs. The inquiry is focused on whether Johnson knew he was lying when he told MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions on four occasions that there had been no breaches of lockdown guidance in No 10.

Johnson to publish evidence ahead of session

Johnson has accepted that he misled MPs - in his written evidence published ahead of the committee hearing - but insisted his partygate denials were made “in good faith” based on what he “honestly” knew at the time. He claims he “did not intentionally or recklessly mislead the House”.

His 52-page defence dossier was published on Tuesday, and had to be resubitted because of “a number of errors and typos”. The committee said Johnson’s legal argument “contains no new documentary evidence”.

In his written evidence, Johnson accepted that his denials turned out not to be true but said he corrected the record at the “earliest opportunity”. However he insisted there is “no evidence at all that supports an allegation that I intentionally or recklessly misled the House”, as he battles to avoid a possible suspension.

“So I accept that the House of Commons was misled by my statements that the Rules and Guidance had been followed completely at No 10,” he wrote. “But when the statements were made, they were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time.

“I did not intentionally or recklessly mislead the House on 1 December 2021, 8 December 2021, or on any other date. I would never have dreamed of doing so.” He insisted that, other than the “assertions of the discredited Dominic Cummings”, his former chief aide, there is “not a single document that indicates that I received any warning or advice that any event broke” the rules.

The former Tory leader rejected the committee’s belief that the evidence strongly suggested breaches of coronavirus rules would have been “obvious” to him while Prime Minister. He called the inquiry’s allegation “illogical”, arguing that some of those who attended the events “wished me ill and would denounce me if I concealed the truth”.

“Far from achieving a ‘cover-up’, I would have known that any deception on my part would lead to instant exposure. This would have been senseless and immediately self-defeating,” he wrote. He said it was “implausible” that he would have known the parties photographed and “immortalised” by his official photographer were rule-breaking.

He insisted that any lack of social distancing in the “old, cramped London townhouse” of No 10 was not necessarily a breach of guidance. “We tried to keep our distance, but we knew that proximity was sometimes unavoidable, and we knew that this was acceptable under the guidance,” he said.

Johnson accepted he personally attended five of the events considered by the committee but said he “honestly believed that these events were lawful work gatherings”.

How to watch Boris Johnson’s select committee appearance

Johnson will appear before the committee on Wednesday for an extended session starting at 2pm. The hearing is scheduled to last until 7pm.

The session will be streamed live on Parliament Live, on BBC Parliament and will likely be covered live by various news channels.

The committee has indicated that it will ask Johnson why MPs were told that no guidance had been broken “when he knew what the guidance was and was in attendance at gatherings where the guidance was breached,” and why he did not tell MPs about “the gatherings at which he had been present”.

What is the privileges committee?

The Committee on Privileges is a specialist body tasked with investigating potential contempts and breaches of privilege, particularly whether MPs have lied in Parliament.

The committee published an interim report on the matter earlier this month in which it said there was strong evidence to suggest the breaches of Covid rules in No 10 would have been “obvious” to the former PM.

The report said: "The evidence strongly suggests that breaches of guidance would have been obvious to Mr Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings.

"There is evidence that those who were advising Mr Johnson about what to say to the press and in the House were themselves struggling to contend that some gatherings were within the rules."

Camberwell and Peckham MP Harriet Harman. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty ImagesCamberwell and Peckham MP Harriet Harman. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Camberwell and Peckham MP Harriet Harman. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

While chaired by a veteran Labour MP, Harriet Harman, the committee is cross-party and has a Conservative majority, with four Conservative MPs, one SNP and another Labour MP.

The committee could recommend that Johnson be suspended from Parliament for ten days, which could lead to a by-election in Johnson’s constituency if 10% of voters sign a recall petition. Johnson would not be prohibited from standing for election.

Conservative backbencher Peter Bone said he did not believe Johnson would face suspension after the inquiry.

“I don’t think for one moment they’re going to reach that decision because if you look objectively to say that Boris Johnson knowingly lied there’s no evidence of it,” he told Sky News.

“Haven’t they had thousands and thousands of WhatsApp messages and they’ve been going on for this inquiry for 10 months and found nothing.”

Leader of the house Penny Mordaunt has warned MPs and peers against trying to influence members of the committee while the investigation is ongoing. She said: “They need to be permitted to get on with their work without fear or favour and I would also remind members in this House that this House asked them to do this work. We referred this matter to the committee for them to consider and we asked them to do this work and to do it well, and they should be left to get on with this.

“That is the will of this House and I think a very dim view will be taken of either any member who tries to prevent them from carrying out this serious work or anyone from outside this House that interferes.”

What will happen if Johnson is found to have misled Parliament?

If Johnson fails to convince the committee he did not deliberately mislead the Commons, he could be found to have committed a contempt of Parliament. A suspension of more than 10 days could result in a high-profile by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat.

The full House of Commons would vote on any recommendations. Rishi Sunak, who is not planning on watching proceedings, has said he will not seek to influence MPs on the committee. He is expected to grant a free vote in the Commons on any sanction that may be recommended.

But if Johnson is found in contempt and sanctions are recommended, this is likely to cause a headache for the current Prime Minister, as Johnson retains support within both the Conservative Party and Cabinet.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris raised eyebrows earlier this month when he offered a staunch defence of Mr Johnson when asked about the probe, while Home Secretary Suella Braverman said over the weekend that she admired the former prime minister.