The parliamentary committee investigating whether the prime minister knowingly misled the House of Commons over Partygate has issued a call for evidence.
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The PM repeatedly told MPs that no lockdown rules were broken in Downing Street before the Metropolitan Police issued 126 fixed-penalty notices covering 12 events, including those given to Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
The key word is “knowingly”, said HuffPost, as Johnson claims that it did not occur to him that his birthday party breached the rules he imposed upon the country.
“The trailer is out for the most anticipated political show in years,” said David Maddox, political editor at the Daily Express. “It promises allegations of scandal, partying, love, lies and possibly even infidelity as the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee prepares to investigate both Boris and Carrie Johnson’s supposed Partygate transgressions.”
One Tory MP, a critic of Johnson, said it was going to be “worse than the Jerry Springer show” and you can see what they mean, said Maddox. “This is not going to be the equivalent of quietly and privately sending a questionnaire back to the Met police.”
‘Bonkers’ anonymity plan
Downing Street sources warned today that the inquiry risks becoming a “kangaroo court” after the committee said it would accept anonymous testimony, reported The Telegraph. Although the committee must be able to identify all individuals, “one No. 10 source said it would be difficult for Mr Johnson to challenge anonymous evidence which effectively could be hearsay”, said the paper.
One MP, a friend of the PM, called it “bonkers”. “How can you interrogate someone who has not turned up? If you don’t trust the process, how can you trust the result?” they added.
But Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who is in Madrid for a Nato summit with Johnson today, dismissed the “kangaroo court” comment, saying: “I trust implicitly my parliamentary colleagues to listen properly to the evidence and make the right decision.”
The controversial chair
The appointment of Harriet Harman as chair of the investigation is also a “concern”, said The Telegraph. Some Tory MPs suggested she should step down because of critical tweets she had previously posted about Johnson’s behaviour, but it was announced yesterday that she was unanimously elected to take up the role.
Conservatives are also “angry that such an ‘overtly political’ figure is leading a probe that could have huge significance over Mr Johnson’s future as Prime Minister”, said the Daily Mail, pointing out that Harman has twice been an interim Labour leader.
Chris Bryant, another Labour MP, had already recused himself from leading the inquiry over his past criticism of Johnson “in order to prevent allegations of political bias”, said the paper.
The committee has seven members in total: four Conservatives, two Labour MPs and one SNP MP. Sir Ernest Ryder, a former lord justice of appeal and senior president of tribunals, will also advise the committee.
The deadline for submissions of evidence is 29 July, but oral hearings are not due until the autumn. It is not yet known if these will be held in public and televised.