Johnson will offer ‘robust defence’ as he fights partygate claims, says Dowden

The former prime minister will appear before the Privileges Committee on Wednesday as MPs consider whether he misled Parliament.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson will give a “robust defence” of his actions but ultimately his fate will be in the hands of MPs, a Cabinet minister has said.

The former prime minister will submit a written dossier of evidence to MPs ahead of a public hearing on Wednesday as he attempts to clear his name over allegations he misled Parliament about the partygate scandal.

He will provide the statement to the Privileges Committee as he battles to save his political career.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden told Sky News on Sunday: “I’m sure Boris Johnson will give a robust defence of himself and then it will be for the committee to determine the outcome of it.”

Asked whether there will be a free vote for Conservative MPs if the committee recommends sanctions, Mr Dowden said it is “the standard practice” on House matters.

Downing Street partygate
Boris Johnson pictured at a gathering in 10 Downing Street during lockdown (Sue Gray Report/Cabinet Office)

“I’m not sure final decisions have been made but that would be the precedent that we would expect to follow,” he said.

In an interim report, the Privileges Committee said the evidence strongly suggests breaches of coronavirus rules in No 10 should have been “obvious” to Mr Johnson.

They are examining evidence around at least four occasions when he may have deliberately misled MPs with his assurances to the Commons that rules were followed.

Allies of Mr Johnson said he would provide a “detailed and compelling” account to the committee before his appearance, showing he “did not knowingly mislead the House”.

The Sunday Times reported he will point to a series of previously undisclosed WhatsApp messages from senior civil servants and members of his No 10 team showing he had relied upon their advice when he made his statements to Parliament.

He will also publish messages which show other senior figures in Downing Street believed the gatherings were covered by the “workplace exemption” in the lockdown rules.

Oliver Dowden
Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden said Boris Johnson will give a ‘robust defence’ of his actions amid the partygate affair (PA)

The committee’s investigation is being chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman, although the seven-strong panel has a Tory majority.

The committee will publish its findings on whether Mr Johnson committed a contempt of Parliament and make a recommendation on any punishment, but the ultimate decision will fall to the full House of Commons.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he will not seek to influence MPs on the committee and indicated he will grant a free vote to Tory MPs on any sanction that may be recommended.

A suspension of 10 sitting days or more for Mr Johnson could ultimately trigger a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat, which he held with a majority of 7,210 in 2019.

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