Johnson accused of using ‘distraction tactic’ as MPs prepare to publish partygate report | Politics News

The Privileges Committee is this morning expected to finally publish its report into whether Boris Johnson lied to parliament over partygate, despite a last-minute attempt by the former prime minister to discredit one of the committee members.

He has been accused of using a “distraction tactic” after calling for senior Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin to resign over allegations of lockdown rule-breaking.

In a dramatic twist on Wednesday evening, Mr Johnson and his allies said Sir Bernard should “explain his actions” and step down from the inquiry, following claims he attended a drinks reception in December 2020.

Mr Johnson called the allegations “nauseating” – but he was accused of attempting to distract from the report’s findings by opposition MPs, while a source close to the committee reportedly dismissed the intervention as “desperate stuff”.

According to the Guido Fawkes website, Sir Bernard went to a drinks party held by Commons Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing in December 2020, while London was in Tier 2 measures restricting indoor mixing.

Responding to the claims, Mr Johnson said: “Bernard Jenkin has just voted to expel me from parliament for allegedly trying to conceal from parliament my knowledge of illicit events.

“Now it turns out he may have for the whole time known that he himself attended an event – and concealed this from the Privileges Committee and the whole House for the last year.

“To borrow the language of the committee, if this is the case, he ‘must have known’ he was in breach of the rules.

“He has no choice but to explain himself.”

Read more: Who are the Privileges Committee?
What Johnson told the committee

Mr Johnson also wrote to committee chair Harriet Harman demanding that she clarify whether she checked that panel members had not attended such events before the inquiry began.

In a rancorous letter, he said that if the report was true, Sir Bernard was “guilty of flagrant and monstrous hypocrisy” and “he should have recused himself” from the investigation.

“I really find it incredible – and nauseating – that this matter is emerging at this stage of your process.”

Sir Bernard has been contacted while a representative for Dame Eleanor declined to comment.

Lord Peter Cruddas, a Tory donor who Mr Johnson elevated to the Lords, called for the police to investigate.

‘Tories in full blown civil war’

But Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “This a typical distraction tactic from Boris Johnson that doesn’t change the fact he broke the law and lied about it.

“The Conservative Party is now in a full blown civil war, while people struggle to afford to pay their mortgage or get a GP appointment.”

The party called for a “general election now to finally get rid of this chaotic Conservative government”.

Labour also dismissed Mr Johnson’s intervention as a “distraction”, with shadow House of Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire telling BBC Newsnight: “I sat in parliament and heard him say repeatedly that no parties had taken place and no rules had been broken. This is a distraction by Boris Johnson from the central question of whether or not he lied.”

Last year, Mr Johnson received one of the 126 fines the Met Police issued over lockdown breaching events at Downing Street and Whitehall during the pandemic.

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He resisted calls to resign at the time but was brought down months later by the collapse of support within his own government following his handling of the Chris Pincher affair.

The Privileges report, which Mr Johnson has already quit as an MP over, is poised conclude that the former prime minister deliberately misled parliament with his repeated assurances that COVID rules were followed at all times.

Mr Johnson has denied lying and railed against what he branded the “kangaroo court” as he stood down as an MP on Friday after receiving their findings.

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Sam Coates analyses what happened at PMQs on Wednesday

Despite his latest intervention, Sky News understands the Privileges Committee is still expected to publish its findings at 9am on Thursday.

According to The Independent, a source close to the group called Mr Johnson’s statement a “desperate” last-ditch attempt to discredit their work and pointed out they are ruling on his claims in the Commons rather than the gatherings themselves.

The Tory-majority panel, chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman, has spent a year investigating whether Mr Johnson committed a contempt of parliament by misleading MPs either recklessly or deliberately by denying the rule-breaking parties in Number 10, and the report is said to be 30,000 words long.

The former Conservative leader’s resignation means he will not serve the lengthy suspension likely to be recommended, but Mr Johnson could be refused a parliamentary pass offered to former MPs, a sanction imposed on former speaker John Bercow after a bullying report.

It comes as Mr Johnson is embroiled in a public spat with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak over his resignation honours list.

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This was published hours before his dramatic exit from the Commons on Friday and omitted the names of his close allies Nadine Dorries and Nigel Adams, who have also resigned as MPs.

The Tories are now facing three potentially damaging by-elections, but Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is also pressing for a general election.

He ended PMQs on Wednesday by hitting out at the “Tory chaos”.

He told Mr Sunak: “End the boasting, the excuses, the Tory chaos, see if he can finally find somebody, anybody, anywhere to vote for him and call a general election now.”

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