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Boris Johnson will give 'robust defence' of Partygate role – minister

Boris Johnson will give ‘robust defence’ of his actions during Partygate says minister ahead of ex-PM’s marathon four-hour grilling by MPs this week – with blurred photos inside No10 set to form backbone of his 50-page defence case

  • The ex-PM is set to argue he received clear advice gatherings were within rules
  • He could also question the fairness of the Commons Privileges Committee

Boris Johnson will give a ‘robust defence’ of his actions during the Partygate scandal, a top minister said today ahead of the ex-PM’s marathon grilling by MPs this week. 

The former Prime Minister has compiled a comprehensive legal case ahead of his four-hour appearance before the Privileges Committee on Wednesday, allies claim.

He is expected to argue that he received clear advice at the time that lockdown gatherings in Downing Street were within Covid rules, which will be made public in the coming days.

His defence is also expected to call into question the fairness of the Commons Privileges Committee, which could decide his political fate when it questions him.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden told Sky News on Sunday: ‘I’m sure Boris Johnson will give a robust defence of himself and then it will be for the committee to determine the outcome of it.’

Asked whether there will be a free vote for Conservative MPs if the committee recommends sanctions, Mr Dowden said it is ‘the standard practice’ on House matters.

‘I’m not sure final decisions have been made but that would be the precedent that we would expect to follow,’ he said.

Photos of Mr Johnson and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case surrounded by Downing Street staff – the other faces blurred for anonymity – form the core of his defence that he did not intentionally mislead the House over Covid-era parties at No 10.

Sources claim that none of the more than two dozen No 10 staff who have given evidence to the committee – many of them featured in the photographs – have told the MPs that they believed they were breaking the rules.

SPEECH: Official photo of Mr Johnson’s birthday in June 2020. No10 blurred the faces of other staff, except Simon Case

Boris Johnson pictured here at the gathering in No10 on June 19, 2020, with the then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak

Mr Johnson is also likely to argue that the gatherings were held to try to boost morale in No 10 which had been hit by waves of illness and which contributed to a stressful working environment.

A source said: ‘People were dropping like flies. People were working long hours under stressful conditions, and Boris wanted them to stay cheerful and motivated.

‘Those people in the pictures used the same offices and the same bathrooms, opened the same doors, used the same printers, photocopiers and phones and breathed the same air in that unventilated Victorian building for 16 hours a day.

‘The fact that many pictures were taken by [official photographer] Andy Parsons and placed on the No 10 Flickr account shows we didn’t think we had anything to hide.’

Mr Johnson’s defiance underlines the stakes at play this week in his televised public interrogation, which could last for four hours. 

The committee, which is made up of four Tories, two Labour MPs and one SNP MP, can recommend a ten-day Commons suspension if it believes he intentionally misled MPs – a sanction that could lead to a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat.

Last night, sources close to the committee hit back at claims from ex-Home Secretary Priti Patel of a ‘culture of collusion’ and lack of objectivity after negative comments made by members about Mr Johnson. 

One source said that talk of collusion was ‘absolute b******s’ and dismissed any suggestion that the committee’s mind was already made up on the ex-PM’s behaviour.

The then-Prime Minister pictured raising a glass in No10 during a gathering to mark the departure of a special advisor on November 13, 2020

The committee hearing coincides with a vote on an aspect of Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit Northern Ireland deal with the EU, which Mr Johnson’s supporters expect to play into their hands. 

A source said: ‘Many of the people who feel Boris was badly treated are annoyed with elements of the deal, and it is going to fuel the rebellion.’

There is anger among Mr Johnson’s allies over Mr Sunak’s decision to allow his party a free vote on the results of the committee’s investigation. 

One senior Tory said: ‘If the PM is not willing to support his predecessor who is up before a kangaroo court, that’s serious.’

Mr Johnson’s allies also believe that the row over Partygate investigator Sue Gray accepting a senior job with Labour boosts his chances of successfully arguing that he has been the victim of a ‘stitch-up’.

However, the committee said its initial report this month was ‘not based on the Sue Gray report’ but on other evidence including material supplied by the Government.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said: ‘The committee will vindicate Boris Johnson. The evidence will show Boris Johnson did not knowingly mislead Parliament.’

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