Boris Johnson is facing a fight for his political career after MPs said evidence strongly suggests breaches of COVID rules would have been “obvious” to the then PM.
The cross-party privileges committee said the Commons may have been misled at least four times over Partygate allegations, and MPs are set to cross-examine Mr Johnson in the week beginning 20 March.
If the committee finds that Mr Johnson was in contempt of parliament he could face sanctions, including a suspension.
If the suspension is for longer than 10 days and the Commons agrees to it, his constituents in Uxbridge and South Ruislip could find themselves voting in a by-election.
The committee’s preliminary report said: “The evidence strongly suggests that breaches of guidance would have been obvious to Mr Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings.”
But Mr Johnson claimed the report “vindicated” his belief that he did not break any rules.
Mr Johnson said: “There’s absolutely nothing to show that any adviser of mine or civil servant warned me in advance that events might be against the rules, nothing to say that afterwards they thought it was against the rules, nothing to show that I myself believed or was worried that something was against the rules.”
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One of the potential instances of contempt mentioned in the report is Mr Johnson making a similar claim in the Commons, based on advice meant only for a media statement and referencing a single event rather than multiple gatherings.
Mr Johnson received one of the 126 fines issued by Scotland Yard over lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street and Whitehall.
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Boris Johnson’s four potential contempts
- Telling MPs in December 2021 that no rules or guidance were broken, when Sue Gray and the police judged otherwise
- Failing to tell the Commons he knew about events where rules and guidance were broken, with evidence showing he was present
- Claiming he had “repeated assurances” rules were not broken, when this was only given about one event – and not intended to be used in the Commons
- Hiding behind the Sue Gray report while it was happening when he knew enough to give MPs answers earlier
Labour was quick to criticise Mr Johnson, with the party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner saying the report was “damning”.
Ms Rayner said current prime minister Rishi Sunak “must stop propping up this disgraced PM and his legal defence fund – and make clear that if he is found to have repeatedly misled parliament his career is over”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on Mr Sunak – “who of course got fined in this process” – “to ensure that we move forward as fast as we can with the COVID inquiry and he absolutely acts on any recommendations that come in the interim”.