Partygate inquiry will wait until autumn to grill Boris Johnson on whether he lied to Parliament

Boris Johnson will not be grilled by the committee investigating whether he lied to Parliament about Downing Street parties before the fall, it was revealed during of the official launch of the investigation today.

An attempt by the Tories to stop Harriet Harman leading the inquiry has failed, after the Labor MP was confirmed as Speaker today.

But no decision has yet been made on whether the oral evidence sessions of the questioning by the Commons Privileges Committee will be held in public and in front of TV cameras.

The Commons voted in April for the committee to investigate whether Mr Johnson’s repeated denials that the Covid lockdown rules had been broken at No 10 constituted a contempt of Parliament.

A finding of contempt could cast doubt on the Prime Minister’s position, allowing MPs to vote on a suspension of parliament, which itself could trigger a recall petition in his constituency of Uxbridge.

And the Prime Minister would be in danger simply for lying to Parliament, which the ministerial code of conduct treats as a resignation offence. If he resisted pressure to resign under these circumstances, Tory backbenchers made it clear they would try to force a second vote of no confidence.

At a meeting today to confirm Mrs Harman’s chair, it was agreed to appoint former Court of Appeal judge Sir Ernest Ryder as an adviser. Sir Ernest recently completed a review of fairness and natural justice within the House of Commons standards system.

In a move apparently intended to encourage potential No. 10 whistleblowers to come forward, the committee has confirmed that it is willing to collect oral and written evidence from witnesses who wish to remain anonymous.

The committee has a built-in Conservative majority, with four Tory MPs, two Labor and one from the SNP. All eyes will be on the Tory members, who are expected to come under intense pressure to spare the Prime Minister by voting along party lines.

Earlier this month, Minister Michael Ellis offered his support to Tory MPs who were trying to block Harman as speaker on the grounds that the mother of the house had already tweeted her belief that the prime minister had lied.

Speaking from the dispatch box, Mr Ellis agreed with one MP who questioned whether it was fair that ‘those placed in a position of judgment over others should not have a previously declared position on the question in question”, saying that it was “a very good pointer”.

As reports of parties breaking the lockdown in Downing Street first emerged last December, Mr Johnson told the House of Commons that ‘all guidelines were followed in No 10’ and that “I have been assured on several occasions since these allegations emerged that there was no party and no Covid rules were broken”.

After aide Allegra Stratton resigned for joking about the holidays, he told MPs he was ‘sickened and furious about it myself’ but had been ‘repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken”. He said ‘guidelines were followed and rules were followed at all times’.

A police investigation later issued 126 fixed fine notices for lockdown breaches to 83 people at No 10, including the Prime Minister.

The committee has called for evidence on the Prime Minister’s knowledge of activities at 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office during Covid regulation and on any briefings given to Mr Johnson or any inquiries made by Mr Johnson regarding these events.

The commission has announced that it will spend the coming weeks finalizing details of the investigative process – including whether evidentiary sessions will be held behind closed doors – before beginning hearings in the fall.


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Edward L. Robinett