Boris Johnson will give his first televised evidence next Wednesday on whether he misled parliament over Partygate, the privileges committee has announced.
Compelling watching or a complete turn-off? – Owl
Jessica Elgot www.theguardian.com
The committee, which is chaired by the Labour MP Harriet Harman, has said the former prime minister has accepted an invitation to give evidence at 2pm on 22 March.
His appearance will come after an interim report by the cross-party committee found there was significant evidence he misled MPs over lockdown parties, and that he and aides almost certainly knew at the time that they were breaking rules.
The damning report includes one witness saying the then prime minister told a packed No 10 gathering in November 2020, when strict Covid restrictions were in force, that “this is probably the most unsocially distanced gathering in the UK right now”.
Other new evidence includes a message from a No 10 official in April 2021, six months before the first reports of parties emerged, saying a colleague was “worried about leaks of PM having a piss-up – and to be fair I don’t think it’s unwarranted”.
The session will be held in public and includes questioning from all of the committee’s members – four Conservative MPs, two Labour and one SNP.
Johnson has also been offered the chance to provide written evidence to the inquiry setting out his response, should he wish, in advance of the oral evidence session.
Any response will be published, the committee said, and added that it had already disclosed all evidence submitted to the inquiry so far to Johnson “under secure conditions”.
The interim report published last month was intended to give Johnson notice of lines of inquiry before he testifies later this month.
“There is evidence that the House of Commons may have been misled in the following ways, which the committee will explore,” the report said, giving four examples, all backed up by lengthy footnotes.
A formal finding that Johnson deliberately misled parliament could result in him being suspended. Under parliamentary rules, an exclusion of 14 days or longer would mean Johnson’s constituents could seek a recall petition to remove him as their MP, a viable occurrence given the slim majority in his west London seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
Johnson – who was forced out as prime minister last summer after Conservative MPs tired of repeated controversies – responded to the report with an immediate and orchestrated fightback, seeking to discredit the findings and the committee.