London (CNN) Damning new evidence has been published as part of the inquiry into whether former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson misled parliament over his behavior during the so-called Partygate scandal.
The new information suggests that people advising Johnson were aware that the gatherings taking place in Downing Street during the Covid lockdown breached the UK government’s own guidelines, and points to a culture of drinking in Downing Street at the time.
Last year, the Metropolitan Police issued Johnson a fine for attending one of the rallies, making him the first sitting British prime minister to be found guilty of breaking the law.
The new details came in a report by the House of Commons Committee of Privileges, which published the evidence about which Johnson will be questioned when he appears before the panel later this year.
The report says there was evidence to suggest Johnson may have misled parliament about what he knew about the events in Downing Street. “The evidence strongly suggests that breaches of supervision would have been apparent to Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings,” it adds.
In part of the report, Johnson’s former communications director is quoted as saying in a WhatApp message in connection with a rally on June 19, 2020: “I’m struggling to figure out how this one is in the rules in my head.” In response to a suggestion that the event should be described as “reasonably necessary for work purposes”, which would have fallen within the rules, the communications director replies, “not sure that one works does that. Also blows another big gaping hole in the PM’s account, doesn’t it?”
Johnson repeatedly told parliament that as far as he was aware, “the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.”
The Privileges Committee will ultimately decide whether or not Johnson misled the House of Commons about his actions and, in turn, whether or not he is found in contempt of Parliament. This will then be presented to the House of Commons for a vote.
If Johnson was found in contempt and remained in government, this would constitute a breach of the Ministerial Act. Usually, a breach will mean that a minister resigns. As a backbench MP, it is unclear what punishment will befall Johnson, although there will be huge pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to discipline him in some way.
Johnson and his allies have dismissed the report’s credibility, claiming it is based on the evidence of a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, who has been linked in recent days to a job for the leader of the official opposition Labor Party, Keir Starmer. .
However, this narrative has already been knocked down by a spokesperson for the Privileges Committee, who 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 provided 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 meetings or at the time of preparations for Boris Johnson’s statements to Parliament. Sue Gray was present at none of these and is not one of these witnesses.”