Daily Mail


Report claims Partygate rule breaches would have been ‘obvious’ to ex-PM ++ But he insists they’ve found no proof and he’s been vindicated

- By David Churchill and Tom Witherow

BORIS Johnson came out fighting yesterday after MPs investigat­ing Partygate claimed No10 lockdown breaches would have been ‘obvious’.

The former prime minister insisted he had been ‘vindicated’ and there was ‘no evidence’ he had lied to Parliament.

He also launched a scathing attack on the Commons privileges committee for relying on evidence compiled by Sue Gray, the senior civil servant who has been appointed Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.

Mr Johnson and his allies say it is a ‘farce’ that her report will form a key plank of the committee’s probe into whether he lied to MPs over lockdown-breaking gatherings. The

cross-party committee published a 24-page report yesterday citing Ms Gray or the findings of her own Partygate investigat­ion 26 times.

It appeared to condemn Mr Johnson before he had given evidence, suggesting that ‘breaches of [lockdown] guidance would have been obvious to him at the time he was at the gatherings’.

The report suggested there was ‘evidence that the House of Commons may have been misled’ by Mr Johnson for telling it that ‘all guidance was followed completely’ during the gatherings.

But in his first major interventi­on since the committee launched its probe, the ex-PM insisted yesterday’s report contained ‘no evidence whatsoever’ that he lied to the Commons.

He added: ‘I believed that what we were doing was within the rules and that’s why I said what I said to Parliament. And I think what’s so interestin­g about the report today, is that after ten months of effort and sifting through all the innumerabl­e WhatsApps and messages, they found absolutely no evidence to suggest otherwise.

‘The committee has produced a report which I believe totally vindicates me because there is no evidence whatsoever that when I stood up in Parliament I said anything I did not believe and therefore there is no contempt.’

He went on to say it was ‘surreal to discover that the committee proposes to rely on evidence culled and orchestrat­ed by Sue Gray, who has just been appointed chief of staff to the Leader of the Labour Party’.

Taking aim at Ms Gray’s report, he told Sky News: ‘It’s a peculiarit­y that the person who conducted the inquiry into what went on in No 10 and the Cabinet Office – who was presented to me as a person of complete political impartiali­ty with absolutely no political axe to grind whatever – has just been

‘It seems an odd way to behave’

appointed the chief of staff of the leader of the Labour Party.

‘I mean I make no comment about it, except to say that I’m sure that people may want to draw their own conclusion­s about the confidence they can place in her inquiry. If you’d told me all the stuff I now know, I think I might have crossexami­ned her more closely about her independen­ce and I might have invited her to reflect on whether she was really the right person to do it.’

The committee’s report included previously unseen photograph­s of Downing Street gatherings, as well as messages between No 10’s then-communicat­ions director Jack Doyle and officials in January last year, said to show they were ‘struggling’ to justify how events were within the rules.

The former PM will give evidence to the committee in the week beginning March 20. But Mr Johnson’s allies rallied behind him by questionin­g how the process – which could ultimately lead to him facing losing his seat as an MP – can still be credible. They claimed it showed Ms Gray’s Partygate probe was a ‘Left-wing stitch-up’ all along.

Former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg told Channel 4 News: ‘I’m surprised that the privileges committee wishes to judge the matter before it’s seen by the former prime minister. That seems an odd way to behave.’

Former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke added: ‘This whole affair raises really serious questions. The impartiali­ty of the civil service is of the utmost importance for any functionin­g government.’

Tory MP Peter Bone said: ‘ The privileges committee has today admitted its key witness is none other than Sue Gray. How can she possibly be called before the committee to answer all the points that it makes about her evidence – mentioning her dozens of times? This is a farce.’ Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries said: ‘Sue Gray’s evidence cannot be relied upon in any meaningful way until we know how long Sue Gray has had a personal relationsh­ip with Keir Starmer and for how long they have been discussing Sue going to work for him as his most trusted and important adviser.’

Ms Gray is facing questions about whether she broke civil service rules by not immediatel­y declaring the approach she received from Labour – said to be ‘several months ago’ – or her acceptance of the job before seeking approval from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointmen­ts. Sources have sug

gested the body, which vets job moves by ministers and senior civil servants, will recommend a short stint of gardening leave before she can join Labour, despite concerns that she could hand sensitive privileged informatio­n to the party. A spokesman for the privileges committee said: ‘The committee’s report is not based on the Sue Gray report. The committee’s report is based on evidence in the form of material supplied by the Government to the committee in November, including communicat­ions such as WhatsApps, emails and photograph­s from the official Downing Street photograph­er [and] evidence from witnesses who were present either at the time of the gatherings or at the time of preparatio­n for Boris Johnson’s statements to parliament.’

THE Commons committee investigat­ing if Boris Johnson misled Parliament – intentiona­lly or otherwise – has long been a travesty of justice. Yesterday, it plumbed absurd – and frankly sinister – new depths.

The inquiry has barely found a water pistol, let alone a smoking gun. Yet Harriet Harman’s panel of Boris-hating pygmies published a report effectivel­y condemning the ex-prime minister as guilty, even before he has had a chance to give evidence.

This perversion of due process would make even a Third World dictator blush.

Despite working for ten months, the committee has found little that is new.

It says it has evidence that ‘strongly suggests’ Covid rule breaches would have been ‘obvious’ to Mr Johnson. But it has no concrete proof – and such statements would be laughed out of a court of law.

That evidence, such as it is, draws heavily on Sue Gray’s politicall­y explosive probe into lockdown-busting parties at No10, which helped to topple Mr Johnson.

Yet the senior civil servant supposedly being the embodiment of impartiali­ty now rings hollow. For she has accepted a job at the heart of Sir Keir Starmer’s team.

It also turns out Labour’s leader boasted of knowing her ‘personally’ and offered her the job ‘months ago’. Was he wooing her while she investigat­ed Boris? He won’t say.

Any fair- minded observer would be concerned that Mr Johnson has been the victim of a Labour-Remainer stitch-up.

It is beyond parody that our political class is spending time and energy obsessing about long-over parties when there is war in Ukraine and the small boats crisis.

This kangaroo court is tainted. The sooner it is dissolved, the better.

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