- By Sam Francis
- Political reporter, BBC News
MPs have said Boris Johnson may have misled Parliament several times over Partygate – but the former prime minister insists he will be vindicated by their report.
The Privileges Committee said it has seen evidence that “strongly suggests” that breaches of the Covid rule would have been “obvious” to Johnson.
But Johnson said he never “knowingly or recklessly” misled MPs about lockdown gatherings in Downing Street.
And he said he was confident he would be cleared by the committee.
He will testify before the committee later this month.
But in an initial report published on Friday, MPs highlighted ways he may have misled parliament.
These include a declaration on 8 December 2021 that no rules or guidance had been breached in Number 10.
Johnson told BBC News that he did not “know or suspect” that incidents broke the rules when he spoke about them in the Commons.
He added that “after 10 months of effort” the committee had produced no evidence “to suggest otherwise”.
“I did not mislead the House and I do not believe I am guilty of a contempt. I believe this process will happily vindicate me,” he said.
WhatsApp messages exposed
The committee has published extracts from a series of WhatsApp messages it received as part of its inquiry.
In one from 28 April 2021, seven months before press reports of parties first emerged, an unnamed Number 10 official noted that another official was “concerned about leaks of the Prime Minister being pissed off and to be fair I don’t think so is unjustified”.
In another, from 25 January 2022, Johnson’s then communications director, Jack Doyle, told a Number 10 official that he had “heard no explanation” of how a June 2020 cabinet birthday party for the former prime minister was within the rules.
In a separate WhatsApp exchange on the same day, an official messaged Doyle saying: “I’m trying to do some Q&A (briefing for officials handling media inquiries), it’s not going well”.
Mr Doyle replied: “I’m struggling to work out how this one is in the rules in my head”, adding: “Of course the Premier ate his lunch”.
The official replied: “I meant the police, but yes, as ridiculous as the cake case is, it is difficult”.
The official then suggested that they could claim that it was “reasonably necessary for work purposes”.
Mr Doyle replied: “Not sure one works does that. It also blows another big gaping hole in the Prime Minister’s account, doesn’t it?”
In May last year, an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray found widespread rule-breaking had taken place, and Johnson was among 83 people fined by police for taking part in law-breaking events.
The Privileges Committee said it would take Ms Gray’s findings into account.
It emerged this week that Gray has quit the civil service to become chief of staff to Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer, prompting claims from Tory MPs that she was politically biased.
Johnson said it raised questions about the conclusions of her investigation.
“I think people can look at it in a different light,” he told BBC News.
He added that he “might have cross-examined her further about her independence” if “you had told me all the things I now know”.
He added that it was “surreal” that MPs investigating whether he misled Parliament over Partygate planned to take her inquiry into account.
If Johnson is found to have misled Parliament, he could be suspended as an MP or expelled, triggering a by-election.
But the committee’s findings, and any sanction against Johnson, must be approved by a vote in parliament.
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said “the evidence of unfairness by Boris Johnson is already quite overwhelming”.
“I think Boris Johnson has to confront the evidence that is there in front of him,” he said.
Sir Keir accused Rishi Sunak of “sitting on his hands” throughout the investigation.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper accused Johnson of trying to “wriggle out” of the “damning” questions raised by the committee.