Adam Forrest www.independent.co.uk
Three former officials at No 10 reportedly believe that the prime minister did not tell the Commons all that he knew about rule-breaking gatherings held during the Covid crisis.
One of the ex-staffers has agreed to give evidence to the privileges committee inquiry into whether the PM mislead, while two others contacted by the committee are considering whether to testify, according to The Telegraph.
One told the newspaper: “On the facts, he was definitely at lockdown-breaking events and he knew they were happening and therefore what he said to the House was knowingly inaccurate.”
Asked if Johnson misled the Commons, another said: “Absolutely, damn well he did”. And a third said Mr Johnson “knew what was going on”.
Mr Johnson denies misleading parliament. He faces the prospect of a recall petition – which could trigger a by-election in his Uxbridge constituency – if he is suspended by MPs investigating whether he lied about lockdown parties.
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle confirmed last month that the inquiry – if MPs deem Mr Johnson worthy of suspension – would fall within the remit of the Recall of MPs Act.
The committee inquiry led by Labour grandee Harriet Harman expects oral evidence sessions to begin in the autumn, meaning the inquiry could hang over Mr Johnson’s head for months after he departs No 10.
A report published by the committee has made clear that when considering the allegations against Mr Johnson, the standard of proof will be “on the balance of probabilities”.
Mr Johnson’s defenders have questioned whether he “deliberately” or “knowingly” misled parliament during the Partygate saga.
But the committee made clear that such commentary is not relevant. A memo states: “It is for the committee and the House to determine whether a contempt has occurred and the intention of the contemnor is not relevant to making that decision.”
Laura Farris, Conservative MP for Newbury, revealed on Monday that she had stepped down from the privileges committee last month.
She did not say why she had taken the decision in her tweet, and it she is expected to be replaced by a fellow Tory backbencher.
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries had called on all four Tory MPs on the committee to withdraw from the “witchhunt” and Machiavellian process” – with Johnson allies previously calling the probe a “kangaroo court”.
Senior Tory MP Simon Hoare said Ms Dorries was trying to “undermine” a matter for parliament. “The committee shouldn’t give a damn what any minister thinks. This is a serious abuse of power,” he tweeted.
Paul Scully, local government minister, insisted that Mr Johnson did not deliberately mislead MPs. “There’s no way he wilfully misled parliament, in my view,” he told Sky News on Tuesday. “I can’t see how they’re going to find otherwise.”
Asked if he agreed with Ms Dorries’ view that Tory MPs should pull out, Ms Scully. “There is a process, let’s just get through the process.”
Downing Street also rejected Dorries’ call to withdraw co-operation from the inquiry.
His official spokesperson said on Monday that the prime minister and No 10 wanted to “abide by the process”, adding: “We will assist the committee in their inquiries.”