Tories ‘must quit Boris Johnson witch-hunt’: Minister tells MPs to resign from ‘rigged’ Partygate probe as critics say former Prime Minister is facing a ‘kangaroo court’
- Boris Johnson is under investigation by the Commons’ privileges committee
- The group of seven MPs is judging whether PM misled Parliament over Partygate
- Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has branded the investigation a ‘witchhunt’
- Despite resigning, the PM could be kicked out if the inquiry rules against him
Tory MPs involved in a ‘witchhunt’ investigation into Boris Johnson over Partygate should quit the inquiry team, a Cabinet minister said tonight.
Allies of the Prime Minister today attacked the ‘kangaroo court’ probe by the Commons privileges committee into whether Mr Johnson misled Parliament.
They said the committee’s remit had been ‘rewritten in order to facilitate a guilty verdict’ before it even began work.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries tonight urged the four Tory MPs on the committee to ‘have no part in this Machiavellian process’ and step down from the probe immediately.
The inquiry’s broad terms of reference mean the PM can be found in contempt for unintentionally misleading the Commons about lockdown-busting Downing Street gatherings – even if he did not deliberately lie.
Allies of Prime Minister Boris Johnson attacked the ‘kangaroo court’ probe by the Commons privileges committee into whether Mr Johnson misled Parliament
And despite already resigning from No 10, Mr Johnson could be kicked out as an MP if the seven-strong committee rules against him.
Mrs Dorries told the Daily Mail: ‘If this witch-hunt continues, it will be the most egregious abuse of power witnessed in Westminster.
‘It will cast serious doubt not only on the reputation of individual MPs sitting on the committee but on Parliament and democracy itself.
‘It would be the equivalent of a kangaroo court which would set a parliamentary precedent which in itself, will return to haunt every politician and prime minister, of whatever party, in the future. The terms of reference of the inquiry have been rewritten in order to facilitate a guilty verdict before the inquiry has even begun.
‘We are the lawmakers – the MPs on this committee would be taking that duty to a new level, outside of the principles of fairness and into a dark place of unnatural justice.
‘Each Conservative member should do the right thing, have no part in this Machiavellian process, call it out for what it is, and resign from the committee now.’
Lord Goldsmith, who was made a Conservative peer by Mr Johnson in 2019, blasted the ‘highly partisan, vengeful and vindictive’ MPs on the committee. All four Tory members of the committee – Sir Bernard Jenkin, Laura Farris, Alberto Costa and Andy Carter – have criticised the Prime Minister over his lockdown breaches.
Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Culture, told the Daily Mail: ‘If this witch-hunt continues, it will be the most egregious abuse of power witnessed in Westminster
Tonight none wanted to comment on the suggestion they should stand down from the committee.
But a senior Tory MP, who is an ally of the Prime Minister, said they were all feeling the pressure and suggested some may stand down to make way for more experienced politicians who would be seen as more impartial.
The cross-party committee, due to start its investigation into Mr Johnson next month, is chaired by Labour grandee Harriet Harman – even though she branded the Prime Minister ‘unspeakable’ and ‘disgraceful’ for breaking Covid rules.
The other members are Labour former shadow minister Yvonne Fovargue and the SNP’s Allan Dorans.
Lord Goldsmith said: ‘The Partygate probe is clearly rigged. It is a jury comprised of highly partisan, vengeful and vindictive MPs, nearly all of whom are already on the record viciously attacking the person they are judging. It is an obscene abuse of power.’
The committee will decide on the balance of probabilities whether Mr Johnson’s conduct ‘amounts to a contempt of the House’ and MPs will then have to vote on its conclusions and any sanctions.
It had been widely assumed that the inquiry would have to prove Mr Johnson had lied or knowingly misled the Commons. But last month the committee announced it had lowered the bar by ruling that his intentions are unnecessary.
Lord Zac Goldsmith said: ‘The Partygate probe is clearly rigged. It is a jury comprised of highly partisan, vengeful and vindictive MPs, nearly all of whom are already on the record viciously attacking the person they are judging’
Tory MP Michael Fabricant said: ‘Labour want a by-election to get rid of Boris altogether and the privileges committee have changed the rules to do that. Disgraceful and a stitch-up.’
Marco Longhi, the Tory MP for Dudley North and an ally of Mr Johnson, warned last night: ‘I have no doubt that there are MPs who would like to see the PM diminished. I am not one of them.
‘In my experience as an elected member making decisions, whether it be planning, standards or appointments, it is crucial that any such member taking part in those decisions can be seen to have acted impartially and without prejudice.’
His colleague Sally Ann-Hart added: ‘The whole process is a witch-hunt – Boris Johnson has already resigned.’
Leadership favourite Liz Truss refused to say last week whether she would strip the Tory whip from Mr Johnson if he is found to have lied to MPs, saying she would not make any ‘prejudgments’ – but stressing that she believes he ‘didn’t mislead Parliament’.
A spokesman for the privileges committee said: ‘The House of Commons as a whole approved a motion to appoint Harriet Harman to the committee. The other six members of the committee, which has a Government party majority, then elected Harriet Harman as chairman unanimously.’
He added: ‘There has been no change to the rules or to terms of reference. The initial report published by the Committee is about process. The background paper on contempt was prepared by a senior Clerk of the House of Commons.
‘All Clerks are strictly politically impartial. The report also publishes the advice from distinguished former Court of Appeal Judge Sir Ernest Ryder. The Committee has published this material as part of its commitment to transparency.’
FOUR TORY MPS WHO’LL HELP PASS JUDGMENT ON PM
Sir Bernard Jenkins
Sir Bernard Jenkin is the Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex.
The former Boris Johnson ally skewered the Prime Minister in the days before his resignation, saying: ‘There’s no question, it’s over for Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.’ He also warned him he should leave with grace rather than being ‘forced out like Donald Trump clinging to power’.
Sir Bernard also chaired a humiliating session of the Liaison Committee, where he allowed a Labour MP to announce the resignation of members of Mr Johnson’s Government on live television as they happened.
Ahead of his appearance, Sir Bernard said that the PM should not expect an ‘easy ride’ and said he wouldn’t be ‘pulling his punches’.
Andy Carter MP
Andy Carter is the Conservative MP for Warrington South.
He has refused to comment on Partygate investigations but said: ‘Given the events of the last few days, which have nothing to do with the statements Boris Johnson made to Parliament, I believe this is in the nation’s best interests.’ He resigned from his Parliamentary Private Secretary role to take part in the Privileges Committee inquiry, saying: ‘Contempt is a matter which would require Mr Johnson to resign if he were to be found in breach.’
He has refrained from publicly criticising Mr Johnson, with a spokesman suggesting he ‘would not make a statement as he sits on the board of the standards committee and that would be contrary to protocol’.
Alberto Costa MP
Alberto Costa, Conservative MP for South Leicestershire, made a swipe at Mr Johnson last month saying: ‘It’s imperative the next leader of the party, and the next PM, places standards and integrity at the core of government.’
He also said there had been ‘breakdown in good governance’ under Mr Johnson and standards ‘must improve’.
He was a strong backer of Penny Mordaunt to be prime minister before she was knocked out of the leadership contest, saying: ‘She looks like a prime minister. She sounds like a prime minister. She is a prime minister in waiting.’
The Remainer was asked to step down from his role as Parliamentary Private Secretary in 2019 after tabling an amendment to protect the rights of EU citizens.
The Rishi supporter
Laura Farris MP
Laura Farris is the Conservative MP for Newbury.
The former journalist and barrister joined Parliament in 2019 and worked for Democrat Hillary Clinton when she was a US Senator for New York.
She is an enthusiastic backer of Rishi Sunak’s campaign to become prime minister and voted against Mr Johnson in June’s confidence vote. She said that the alleged lockdown breaches had a ‘corrosive effect on public trust’.
Mrs Farris, who resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary so she could take part in the Privileges Committee probe, said : ‘Whether Mr Johnson knew about all of this… he nonetheless preside
He’s done nothing to warrant shameful stitch-up
Commentary by Daniel Johnson for the Daily Mail
Nothing offends the British notion of fair play more grievously than kicking a man when he is down.
Yet that is exactly what the seven MPs who make up the Commons privileges committee propose to do to the Prime Minister.
Ignoring the fact that Boris Johnson has already been forced to resign by his own party, these MPs are about to conduct yet another inquiry into ‘Partygate’ – despite the fact Sue Gray and the Metropolitan Police have already investigated Covid rule-breaking in Downing Street.
Following Miss Gray’s report, Boris apologised to the House for inadvertently misleading MPs. He also paid a fine for attending a birthday party during lockdown.
That should have been the end of the matter. But the Boris-haters refuse to end their vendetta.
Not content with forcing him out of No10, they are determined to drive him out of the Commons too.
‘Boris Johnson himself must expect to be grilled by the committee, not only about the parties (most of which he did not attend), but about anything the probe may turn up. By then no longer PM, he would face this ordeal alone, without officials or counsel to advise him’
The committee was supposed to establish whether or not the PM committed a contempt of Parliament by intentionally misleading the House. It now claims that it could potentially find him guilty of contempt even if there was no intention to mislead.
In other words, the panel has moved the goalposts. There is a world of difference between an innocent mistake and a deliberate lie.
Even more worrying is the composition of the committee. It is supposed to be impartial, but is packed with the PM’s enemies. Quite apart from the three members drawn from the Opposition benches – two Labour and one SNP – three of the four Conservative MPs are longstanding Boris critics.
The committee’s original chairman, Labour MP Chris Bryant, had been so vociferous in his condemnation of Boris that he rightly recused himself rather than give the appearance of pre-judging the verdict.
But his replacement, Harriet Harman, is no less prejudiced against the PM. The Mother of the House – so-called because she is the longest-serving female MP – retweeted claims that he ‘lied repeatedly’, ‘knowingly lied’ and ‘misled the House’.
As an ex-barrister, Miss Harman ought to know that in a court of law such partisan conduct would instantly disqualify her from sitting in judgment.
Yet this so-called inquiry has no intention of giving Boris Johnson a fair trial. It has more in common with the witch-hunts of Salem or the show trials of Stalin’s Soviet Union.
The committee is already demanding unprecedented access to Downing Street and its records, the PM’s diaries, WhatsApp messages and any other evidence that it deems relevant. Such an open-ended investigation looks suspiciously like a fishing expedition.
Boris Johnson himself must expect to be grilled by the committee, not only about the parties (most of which he did not attend), but about anything the probe may turn up. By then no longer PM, he would face this ordeal alone, without officials or counsel to advise him.
‘The committee’s original chairman, Labour MP Chris Bryant, had been so vociferous in his condemnation of Boris that he rightly recused himself’
Given that Boris has already apologised to the Commons, the result would be a foregone conclusion: he would be found guilty of misleading the House and therefore of contempt of Parliament.
The only outstanding issue would be the severity of the punishment. Given the hostility of its membership, the committee could be expected to impose a suspension from the House of at least ten days.
That sentence would mean a recall petition in Mr Johnson’s constituency. If more than 10 per cent of eligible registered voters signed the petition, they would trigger a by-election.
By the autumn, with a cost of living crunch and an impending recession, even Boris would struggle to hold his marginal seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
This is hardly a scenario that Liz Truss, or Rishi Sunak, would relish confronting so soon after taking over at No10. Such a defeat would not only be the ultimate humiliation for Boris, but a nightmare for his successor.
I cannot recall a precedent for hounding a former prime minister in the manner now proposed by the privileges committee. Not even Lloyd George, whose personal conduct makes Boris Johnson look like Mother Teresa, was pursued after leaving office.
Boris Johnson may be beset by foes in Westminster and the media, but he is still popular in the Conservative Party and the country. Voters will be unforgiving if ministers throw the leader to whom they owe so much under a bus.
Fair play and common sense may yet prevail. Elder statesmen, such as Sir Iain Duncan Smith, have tabled a Commons motion calling for the inquiry to be ‘discontinued’.
If the senior Tory on the committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin, joined them, it would surely pull the plug on this flagrant abuse of parliamentary procedure.
I know Sir Bernard to be a decent man. He must now do the right thing. Above all, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak should speak up too.
Whether or not you think – as I do – that Boris deserves the nation’s gratitude, he has done nothing to warrant this shameful stitch-up.
Tories have to shun this tawdry witch-hunt
By Daily Mail Comment
A fundamental principle of natural justice is that the accused has the right to be tried without prejudice or partiality.
Like Caesar’s wife, judges have to be above suspicion. If not, faith in the system breaks down. Equally, the prosecuting authority must prove the defendant acted with mens rea – the deliberate intent to commit the offences alleged.
On both counts, the kangaroo court (aka the Commons privileges committee) set up to rule on whether Boris Johnson misled Parliament over Partygate fails miserably.
It may not be a criminal trial but everything about this case screams malice and prejudgment.
To begin with, chairman Harriet Harman has been openly contemptuous of the Prime Minister on social media, saying he had shown ‘complete disregard for the rules’ and his behaviour was ‘unspeakable’.
Ironically, the committee’s standing chairman, Chris Bryant, recused himself because he had been scathing about Mr Johnson, so felt his presence could lead to the ‘imputation of unfairness’. Given her own antecedents, the idea that Miss Harman will be any fairer is simply preposterous.
The committee also includes a former shadow minister under Jeremy Corbyn and a Scottish nationalist who retweeted his leader Ian Blackford’s rant about the PM supposedly telling ‘a litany of lies’.
Furthermore, it was originally set to decide whether Mr Johnson had ‘knowingly’ misled Parliament but later removed that word from their remit.
So against all convention, the accused is to be damned even if he inadvertently broke the rules. What a stitch-up!
It’s true that Conservative MPs make up a majority on the committee (though none of them stood by Boris to the end and at least one is known to have voted against him in June’s confidence motion).
If they have any sense of honour, the Tory members will do the right thing and quit this vindictive charade. Enough is enough.
Mr Johnson has already paid the ultimate price for his perceived failings – which were monstrously exaggerated by his enemies.
By carrying on, the Tory members are playing into the hands of spiteful opposition parties and implacable Remainers who want to prolong the agony for political purposes.
If they step aside, the rug will be pulled from under the Boris-haters, who will be left shouting into a malevolent echo chamber.
This isn’t justice, it’s naked vengeance. No self-respecting Conservative should have anything to do with it.