The Mail on Sunday
A Kafkaesque kangaroo court
Allies of Boris draw up dossier of legal advice for his case against Harriet Harman’s probe – which they say is a vindictive ‘impeachment’ that must be halted
‘The law was incoherent, vague and uncertain’
THE investigation into Boris Johnson by the Commons Privileges Committee amounts to a ‘Kafkaesque’ attempt at impeachment, according to advice collated by the Prime Minister’s supporters.
The guidance – seen by The Mail on Sunday – suggests that the panel’s decisions could have major ramifications if approved by Parliament.
They could lead to ‘paralysis’ of Ministers, who will feel unable to make statements in the House of Commons in case they are later held in contempt, according to the document.
The inquiry into Mr Johnson will be ‘effectively a show trial’ that is ‘inconsistent with the principles of natural justice and fair trial’, it says.
The Prime Minister will face a panel of MPs next month after Parliament voted in April to start the investigation – which has been dismissed by his allies as a ‘witch hunt’.
It will examine whether he obstructed Parliament by telling it that pandemic rules had been followed when the so-called Partygate gatherings were held in Downing Street – even though he later apologised.
It could lead to Mr Johnson – who will have returned to being an MP by the time the panel sits – being suspended from the House of Commons and possibly even losing his seat if he faces a by-election.
Mr Johnson’s allies dismiss the inquiry as a ‘kangaroo court’ after it decided that it would not have to prove that he had ‘knowingly’ misled MPs when he said rules had been followed.
He denies deliberately misleading the House of Commons.
The document sets out a number of grounds on which the Privileges Committee probe should be halted.
They warn that the effect of not requiring any misleading statement to be deliberate is that it could mean any Minister or MP could be held in contempt of Parliament if they get something wrong.
The authors compare this to Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty, who states: ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.’
Should the panel decide that the Prime Minister has committed contempt, it could have huge implications for how Parliament works.
A source said: ‘This will change the nature of Government’s relationship with Parliament.
‘Any Minister would be reluctant to answer questions in Parliament in case they are later found to be in contempt. At the moment, Ministers correct the record in Parliament if they have misled the House. What the Privileges Committee is trying to do is to change this.’
The authors of the guidance also say that the Prime Minister should be able to instruct a lawyer to speak for him so that witnesses can be cross-examined.
They say that the inquiry is akin to impeachment and brand it ‘Kafkaesque’ because the law at the time when Mr Johnson received a fixed-penalty notice was ‘vague, incoherent and uncertain’.
Other issues they refer to are the cost of the proceedings, which have yet to be estimated.
They also raise concerns about the ‘prejudgments and therefore bias’ of members of the committee and the chairman. Harriet Harman, the veteran Labour MP, became chairman after her predecessor, Chris Bryant, recused himself on the grounds that he had previously criticised the PM over Partygate.
However, Ms Harman tweeted that Mr Johnson ‘misled’ MPs and said he had ‘lied repeatedly’ and ‘trashed the ministerial code’.
Tory grandee Bernard Jenkin, who sits on the committee, told the Prime Minister he had to go and should leave with dignity rather than be ‘forced out like Donald Trump’.
The Tory members of the panel all criticised Mr Johnson over stories about lockdown parties being held in Downing Street.
Mr Johnson is accused of misleading MPs over Partygate when he stated in Parliament that no Covid rules had been broken.
Several events were later revealed to have broken the law, leading to a total of 126 fines being issued to 83 individuals.
Among them was Mr Johnson, who received a fixed-penalty notice for attending his own birthday party in the Cabinet Room on June 19, 2020. The then Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Mr Johnson’s wife, Carrie, were also fined for attending the same gathering.
The committee will determine whether or not the Prime Minister misled the House of Commons.
The authors criticised the advice of legal counsel to the committee, Sir Ernest Ryder who advised that the issue should be resolved on the ‘balance of probabilities’.
The committee was advised that intention was not necessary for a contempt to have been committed.
The authors conclude: ‘In a nutshell, this would be a unique show trial centring mainly on a fixed-penalty notice for having a
‘He’s being set traps like Indiana Jones’
birthday cake on the table in the Cabinet Room, which was never even taken out of its box, and in respect of such notices.’
One source summarised the issue: ‘This committee inquiry is a series of bear traps.
‘No matter what the Prime Minister does, they will try to catch him out. It’s like Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones.’
A spokesman for the Privileges Committee said: ‘The committee can only consider matters referred to it by the House. The House unanimously agreed a motion to refer this matter to the Committee on April 21 and the Committee is dutybound to proceed with the inquiry.
‘This is an inquiry that has been mandated by the whole House – to determine whether the Prime Minister committed a contempt by misleading the House. This is not about changing any rules, but about ensuring the same rules apply to all.’