Partygate: Boris Johnson’s political future could be decided within weeks


Boris Johnson’s political future could be decided within weeks by a group of MPs investigating claims he misled parliament over Partygate, the Guardian has been told.

The Committee of Privileges is preparing to close the investigation into the former prime minister, after being barred from influencing local elections or taking any action that could affect the coronation of King Charles.

Sources said May 23 and 24 were set to try to finalize a draft report that would rule on whether Johnson should share with MPs his knowledge of parties breaking the law in Downing Street during Covid. misled about or not.

According to insiders, the seven-member committee, which has a Conservative majority, will hold private meetings to sift through the evidence in an attempt to come to a conclusion about Johnson’s conduct.

The hope is that the more than a year-long inquiry could move into its final stages before the Commons goes into recess on 25 May.

However, the process is far from straightforward. If Johnson misled Parliament, and MPs are divided over the approval he would get as a result, it could take longer.

After the draft report is signed off by the Privileges Committee, Johnson will have two weeks to respond before the final report is published. Rishi Sunak’s government will have to table a motion to support the findings.

But the issue could drag on even further if Johnson or his allies try to fight any approval by amending the proposal – as former MP Owen Patterson tried to avoid being penalized for lobbying.

Johnson has maintained his innocence. A spokesperson for the former PM said: “We continue to co-operate fully with the committee and will study its findings as they emerge. Mr Johnson did not knowingly, intentionally or willfully mislead Parliament.

Some observers believe the ruling regarding former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier has set a recent precedent for breaking Covid laws. She is appealing to the Commons against a month-long suspension – well above the 10-day limit that triggers a possible by-election.

While penalties were imposed at the end of March by the Standards Committee, on which all Privileges Committee MPs sit (bar Harriet Harman), there was a notable division.

Three Tories and one SNP MP tried to reduce the approval to nine days, and were defeated only by members being overweight. The Privileges Committee does not have any ordinary members, so it is unclear what the result might mean for Johnson.

Despite the accumulation of evidence – including WhatsApp messages, doorknob logs and testimony by Johnson himself – being able to verify that he intentionally misled lawmakers will be challenging.

An insider with knowledge of the process said it was “very difficult to prove what was on his mind”.

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There is no mechanism for MPs to appeal against the findings of the Privileges Committee, so there may be a push to reform the system if the committee finds against Johnson.

A House of Commons spokesman said the committee’s composition reflected the “political balance” of all MPs, and that each member was appointed by the House. He said the decision to hold the inquiry had been “absolutely” made by the Commons on 21 April last year, and the committee remained “bound to proceed with the inquiry”.

Meanwhile, the Guardian has been told that taxpayer-funded legal aid for Johnson will be extended for a third time.

An initial budget of £129,000 was set aside for four months from August to December 2022, rising to £220,000 in total, and the contract with law firm Peters & Peters was extended until February 2023.

As the investigation progressed, the contract was again extended till 30 April. While there has been no update on the government website, sources said the funding will be increased again.

Using public money to cover Johnson partygate Defense has come under fire from Labour, and is under investigation by the National Audit Office, which acts as the government spending watchdog.

This article was amended on 4 May 2023 to clarify that this is a draft report being prepared by the Committee of Privileges; The report will only be finalized after Boris Johnson has had an opportunity to respond.

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