Boris Johnson’s defence against claims he lied to parliament about Downing Street lockdown parties is expected to be published today.
The former prime minister’s case will be submitted to the privileges committee by barrister Lord Pannick KC, and allies believe his position – that he was unaware any gatherings broke the rules – will be “vindicated”.
An estimated £220,000 of taxpayers’ money has been allocated for Mr Johnson‘s legal bills.
The seven-member privileges committee, chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman but with a Tory majority, will decide whether the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP misled the Commons – and if it was “reckless or intentional”.
Should his actions be deemed a contempt of parliament, the committee will recommend a punishment that MPs will subsequently get to decide upon – with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expected to grant a free vote.
A suspension from parliament of 10 days or more could ultimately trigger a by-election in Mr Johnson’s seat.
His defence will be revealed before he faces the committee on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for Mr Johnson said: “The committee will vindicate Boris Johnson’s position. The evidence will show that Boris Johnson did not knowingly mislead parliament.”
What is Johnson’s case?
The committee is examining evidence from at least four occasions when he may have misled the Commons with his guarantees that restrictions were adhered to.
An interim report by the committee earlier this month suggested breaches of lockdown rules in place during the coronavirus pandemic should have been “obvious” to Mr Johnson.
But he has said there is “no evidence in the report that I knowingly or recklessly misled parliament”.
He is expected to highlight previously unrevealed WhatsApp messages from senior civil servants and members of his Number 10 team, showing he had relied on their advice when he made his statements.
Others will showcase a belief that the gatherings were covered by the “workplace exemption” in the lockdown rules.
Everything you need to know about partygate investigation
Mr Johnson has also sought to cast doubt on the findings of Sue Gray’s report on partygate, after she quit the civil service because she intends to take up a role as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.
Backers have also questioned the impartiality of Ms Harman.
Parts of Conservative party ‘delusional’ about Boris Johnson
But this was rubbished by Dominic Grieve, the attorney general under Theresa May, who said Mr Johnson has got “a lot of explaining to do” about partygate.
“And of course, that is against the background of somebody who has a serial reputation for telling untruths whenever it suits him,” he told Sky News.
Mr Grieve said the former PM’s explanations will have to be considered in an impartial way by the committee and “they are quite capable of doing that”.
He said “parliament is not subject to any higher authority” so Mr Johnson will not be able to appeal to any court if he does not agree with the result of the hearing.
On whether he believes Mr Johnson broke the rules, Mr Grieve said: “So on the face of it he seems to have known that there were gatherings which were taking place which appear to have been in breach of the lockdown rules.”
And he was less than complimentary about his former colleagues who are defending Mr Johnson, saying: “I’m afraid that just shows that elements of the Conservative Party are still delusional about Mr Johnson.
“And if they want to continue along that path, it’s a matter for them.
“But Mr Johnson is not going to help the Conservative Party’s electoral fortunes.”
‘A witch hunt’
Allies of Mr Johnson have jumped to his defence ahead of the hearing.
Ex-minister Conor Burns said: “Boris Johnson’s contention is that what he told the House of Commons was, to the best information supplied to him, true when he told that to parliament.
“I welcome the fact that he is going to bring forward evidence to back up that.”
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Tory peer Lord Greenhalgh told Times Radio: “I’m concerned that it will be a witch hunt.”
Current ministers refused to be drawn on the committee process on Sunday.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she was an “admirer” of Mr Johnson, but would not comment further.
Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said he expected Mr Johnson to give a “robust defence” of his actions.