Boris Johnson and the Privileges Committee: All you need to know

The committee confirmed it received the evidence, key to Mr Johnson’s political future, on Monday. ITV News' Political Correspondent Libby Wiener reports

Words by ITV News Westminster Producer, Lucy McDaid

The future of Boris Johnson’s political career will effectively be decided this week when he's interrogated by MPs over whether he lied to Parliament about the partygate scandal.

In a televised appearance in front of the Commons Privileges Committee on Wednesday, the former prime minister will deny misleading MPs when he insisted that Covid rules were followed, during pandemic gatherings in Number 10.

Before it all kicks off, here’s everything you need to know.

What is the Commons Privileges Committee?

The Commons Privileges Committee is a cross-party group of seven MPs who investigate potential contempts of Parliament and breaches of privilege.

They have been examining evidence from at least four occasions when Mr Johnson may have misled MPs in claiming to the House of Commons that lockdown rules were followed.

If it’s ruled that he deliberately misled MPs, the committee will make a recommendation on any punishment. The final decision will lie with the full House of Commons.

Members of the Commons Privileges Committee who will be questioning Boris Johnson. Credit: PA

Who is on the Committee?

Conservatives make up the majority of the Privileges Committee, numbering four MPs in total. There are two Labour MPs - including chair Harriet Harman - and one from the SNP.

It's expected that Boris Johnson will use his time in front of them to question the fairness of the inquiry, pointing to comments some members have previously made about him.

Chair - Harriet Harman MP, Labour

Labour’s Harriet Harman chairs the committee and is the longest-standing female MP. She has occupied numerous government roles and has served as deputy leader of the Labour Party.

On Wednesday, Mr Johnson is expected to call into question Ms Harman’s credibility as inquiry chair by referring to Twitter comments she previously made about the Partygate scandal.

In April 2022, Ms Harman suggested that both Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak, then chancellor, would be admitting that they misled the Commons by accepting Fixed Penalty Notices for breaching coronavirus rules.

She also tweeted: “These were laws to save lives that they broke!”

Speaking in defence of Mr Johnson, Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that Ms Harman’s comments call into question “parliament’s reputation in handling this with integrity”.

Sir Bernard Jenkin MP - Conservative

Sir Bernard Jenkin, a veteran MP and vocal voice on the backbenches, was critical of Mr Johnson’s handling of the Chris Pincher affair in July 2022.

Despite being a long-term ally of the former prime minister, the Brexiteer and chair of the Liaison Committee has been given a pat on the back for not giving Mr Johnson an easy ride when called in for questioning.

Other members of the Privileges Committee include Conservative MPs Sir Charles Walker, Andy Carter and Alberto Costa, Labour’s Yvonne Fovargue and the SNP’s Allan Dorans.

Boris Johnson pictured at a gathering in 10 Downing Street during lockdown. Credit: Sue Gray Report/Cabinet Office/PA

What will Mr Johnson be asked about?

Before Mr Johnson begins answering questions he will swear an oath on a King James Bible.

Throughout the session he will be flanked by lawyers employed by him on either side. He will be able to confer with them on any questions he's asked, but they cannot provide answers on his behalf.

The Commons Privileges Committee has made clear that the purpose of Wednesday’s interrogation is to decide whether or not Mr Johnson misled Parliament when he claimed that lockdown gatherings did not break any rules.

It is not, as some might think, to determine the precise details of the gatherings.

The committee will no doubt draw upon evidence contained in their interim report, including WhatsApp messages that show Downing Street advisers “struggling” to justify how parties were within the rules.

In the report published a fortnight ago, members said the evidence suggested breaches of coronavirus guidance should have been “obvious” to Mr Johnson at the time.

What did Boris Johnson really know about Downing Street’s notorious parties? With fresh revelations from our sources, in their own words, listen to the definitive behind-closed-doors story of one of the biggest scandals of our era

What will Boris Johnson say in defence?

Mr Johnson claims he is innocent and has always vigorously denied that he “knowingly” misled Parliament over Number 10 gatherings.

He has submitted a dossier of 52-pages to the Privileges Committee, which sets out evidence that he'll use as part of his defence case.

The key point to look out for during Wednesday’s interrogation is his lawyers’ likely argument that the former prime minister must be proven to have “intended” to mislead Parliament for any contempt to have occurred.

Mr Johnson is also expected to criticise the fairness of the inquiry, dredging up previous Twitter comments from the committee’s chair, Ms Harman.

He has also questioned the credibility of Sue Gray’s partygate report, given she has recently quit the civil service in the hope of becoming Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.

What happens next?

If Mr Johnson is found to be in contempt of Parliament, the Privileges Committee will recommend a punishment for the former PM.

Mr Sunak has said he will not seek to influence the committee's final position.

It will then be down to the full House of Commons to determine Mr Johnson’s fate. Mr Sunak is expected to grant a free vote on any sanction the committee recommends.

This would not be smooth for Mr Sunak, though, as Mr Johnson supporters are still prominent within both the Conservative Party and the current Cabinet.

If Mr Johnson is suspended from the Commons for 10 days, it would give his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituents the power to trigger a recall petition.

If 10% of voters sign, he could lose his job as their MP.

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