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Boris Johnson and Partygate: the stakes will be high in this week’s crucial inquiry Andrew Rawnsley

HealthCOVID-19Boris Johnson and Partygate: the stakes will be high in this week's crucial inquiry Andrew Rawnsley
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wEstminster is salivating in anticipation of electrifying theatre. “It will be imperative to watch,” says a former cabinet minister. “We will all be watching.” This Wednesday just after lunch, Alexander Boris de Pfaffel Johnson will be in jail For contempt of parliament, a charge that could result in his expulsion. He will have to answer multiple allegations of lying to the Commons about Partygate when he faces a televised questioning by seven MPs on the Privileges Committee.

A lot will be at stake in what is expected to be a marathon enquiry. The bereaved families of Covid casualties and everyone angered by the scandal have had a long wait for the moment Mr Johnson is finally held to official account for the hoax he deployed to try to cover up Partygate. A guilty verdict by the committee would reverberate around the world as it would most likely lead to his expulsion from the Commons. This will be a first for this country. No former Prime Minister has ever been expelled from Parliament in this manner. It would also certainly mean the extinction of his ambitions to return to No.10. Importantly, if not more so, this is a fundamental test of whether Parliament is capable of protecting its integrity and our democracy from abuse of power by fraudsters like him.

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He has often said he is comfortably sure of the day of reckoning he will face this week, but it is an interrogation the accused has been dreading. we know this because he has hire expensive lawyers, at a heavy cost to the taxpayer, to advise him how best to save his skin. We also know this because of the desperate efforts made by him and his gang to suppress and discredit the investigation into his misconduct.

first gamble, which happened when he was still stuck At No. 10, there was an attempt to block a referral to the Committee of Privileges, an attempt which failed when a large number of Conservative MPs refused to be involved in the cover-up. After failing to stop an investigation, what looked like an attempt to stop it. When the committee called for evidence from number 10 it was not provided either or produced in a form that has been heavily edited to be useless. It was only by the end of last year that the committee got the necessary material to do its work properly. As the committee goes about its work, taking statements from witnesses, examining exchanges between No. 10 personnel, and gathering other material, Johnson gang busted This is in the form of “witch-hunt” and “kangaroo court”. These attacks on the committee, which has a mandate and operates with the authority of the Commons as a whole, is arguably in contempt of Parliament in itself. The committee members have been incensed by my words, and naturally, by this campaign to undermine them.

His job description is clear. They are not determining whether illegal gatherings took place at Number 10 during the pandemic. Everyone everywhere knows that law-breaking was rampant in Downing Street. We have seen the offending photographs, read witness statements and know that police have issued 126 fines, including one to Mr Johnson, who was the Met Commissioner at the time”serious and reprehensible” Violation of rules. It is not for the Committee to decide whether the former Prime Minister misled the Parliament or not. Everyone everywhere knows he did and on multiple occasions. On 1 December 2021, he told the commons that “all guidelines were fully followed in Number 10”. We know that this and other statements, such as “the rules were followed at all times”, were patently untrue.

The committee’s job is to assess whether his denials were the result of an innocent misunderstanding about ongoing lockdown-stocking at Number 10 or whether he deliberately lied to MPs. The decision towards which the committee is inclined is clearly visible. interim report Published a fortnight ago. This led to the conclusion that it must have been “obvious” to Mr Johnson that the law was being breached inside Number 10, especially when he himself was present In parties that break the rules. Witness testimony told him a packed gathering inside the building, which took place at a time when lockdown restrictions were very strict, was “probably the most socially distanced gathering in Britain right now”. Upon publication of that interim report, he claimed that it “completely vindicates me”, which was highly aversive even by his standards. The report was scathing and it is important to note that four Conservative members of the committee signed it along with three MPs from opposition parties. “It’s a bad harbinger for Boris,” says a senior Tory.

The Privileges Committee is not often in the spotlight and has never been on center stage before. The Labor chair of the inquiry, Harriet Harman, is a highly experienced politician and its senior Tory, Sir Bernard Jenkin, has been an MP for more than 30 years. Yet none of them, let alone the lesser known members of the body, have ever been involved in any work of this magnitude. We must hope that they have done their homework and have their wits about what will be an important test. His personal reputation, and that of the Commons he represents, requires him to handle this inquiry effectively. “The committee really has to be on top of its game,” says a privy councillor.

Encouragingly, they have spent a lot of time assessing the evidence and even a few hours rehearsing how they intend to interrogate the former prime minister. This is understandable considering the slippery character of the accused. It was one of Mr. Johnson’s friends who once called him “fattened pigtribute to his ability to claw his way out of the tightest of spots. In the past, he would claim that he attended alcohol-fuelled gatherings, in the belief that they were legal “work events” and that others were “assured ” but that everything was within the rules. He never explained who gave him these “assurances”. Was it Dillin the Dog?

There is a mountain of evidence suggesting that both he and senior staff at Number 10 may have known the law had been broken before denying it in Parliament. To take just one of many examples, there is an exchange between officers in which they communications director says: “I’m struggling to come to terms with this way.” Most of the public and most MPs have long ago concluded that he lied about Partygate. Yet it is important that the committee deploy the evidence in a forensic manner that leaves him no place to hide and the rest of his apologists no room to contest his innocence. A senior MP with experience of doing this in committee format says, “Johnson, it’s very difficult to question him, because it’s all bluff and bluff.” “They’ll need to pin him down.”

If the committee recommends his suspension from Parliament for 10 or more days, and the Commons ratifies that approval, he is looking to decline. A recall by-election would be triggered as long as a petition for someone in Uxbridge and South Ruislip was signed by at least one-tenth of his constituents. After this, he will have to decide whether to leave the seat or contest the elections. Forecasts currently suggest that he will lose it by a huge margin.

In such a situation, Wednesday is going to be special. We may be witnessing the beginning of the end of Boris Johnson’s parliamentary career and his lie-filled odyssey through British political life. that’s huge. More importantly, the Commons has an opportunity it must seize to protect itself and us from false government. It is a basic premise of our democracy that the executive is held accountable by the Parliament. If ministers feel they can get away with deliberately misleading MPs, then that foundation is destroyed. When those in power believe they can cheat with impunity, it becomes impossible for Parliament to do its job on behalf of the people. It is deeply corrosive to democracy and public faith in it. This is why it is so essential that the punishment for lying in Parliament should be harsh and especially severe when the offender has lied, and on a serious issue, to the highest office in the land. It is not just the fate of a disgraced prime minister that is at stake. It is the credibility of Parliament, the credibility of our political culture and the health of our democracy.

Andrew Rawnsley is the Observer’s chief political commentator

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