Boris Johnson has slammed the Sue Gray Partygate probe as a “cynical stitch-up”. He insisted he was “vindicated” by a report from MPs and said it proves that he did not knowingly mislead Parliament.
The delayed probe found it would have been “obvious” to the defiant Mr Johnson said the report did not contain any evidence that “I knowingly or recklessly misled Parliament”.
He told the Daily Express: “This is insane and a cynical stitch-up. It really is a kangaroo court. It is also clear that what I have been saying about this matter from the beginning has been vindicated.”
The former PM suggested that in light of the fact that Sue Gray has just taken a job with Labour, the top civil servant was the wrong person to probe Partygate.
He said: “I would never have appointed Sue Gray had I thought six months later she would be Keir Starmer’s head of staff. There is no evidence at all I misled Parliament and there’s no smoking gun that I acted improperly. This just totally stinks.”
Mr Johnson came out fighting after being summoned to a public hearing this month where he will aim to prove he did not lie to MPs about illegal gatherings in Downing Street during the pandemic.
As the Privileges Committee’s initial report was published he questioned if Ms Gray – whose earlier inquiry is part of its evidence – had a “political axe to grind”.
Mr Johnson told Sky News: “It is surreal to discover that the committee proposes to rely on evidence culled and orchestrated by Sue Gray, who has just been appointed chief of staff to the leader of the Labour Party.”
“I leave it to others to decide how much confidence may now be placed in her inquiry and in the reports that she produced.” Mr Johnson added: “I believed what we were doing was within the conformity of the Covid regulations. I believe implicitly that these events were within the rules. There’s been no contempt here.”
The MPs’ report considers if Mr Johnson misled the Commons as he responded to Partygate claims.
The committee began investigating his statements in April last year after MPs voted for a probe.
Mr Johnson was called to give evidence in the week of March 20.
The 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.”
“There is evidence that those who were advising Mr Johnson about what to say to the press and in the House were themselves struggling to contend that some gatherings were within the rules.”
Mr Johnson, who was given one of the 126 fines issued by police over lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street and Whitehall, denied breaking Covid rules at No 10 when asked in the Commons.
The committee said it will consider why he told MPs no guidance had been broken “when he knew what the guidance was and was in attendance at gatherings where the guidance was breached”.
It will also ask “why he failed to tell the House about the gatherings at which he had been present”.
Misleading Parliament may result in Mr Johnson being suspended from the Commons for 10 days and could trigger a recall petition in his constituency. If 10 percent of voters in the Uxbridge seat sign that petition he could lose his job as an MP as a by-election would have to be called.
The committee’s 24-page dossier showed his press advisers “struggled” to believe rules were always followed. One official sent a message saying their colleague is “worried about leaks of PM having a p***-up. To be fair, I don’t think it’s unwarranted.”.
No 10’s communications chief also sent a text about a gathering, which read: “Haven’t heard any explanation of how it’s in the rules. I’m struggling to come up with a way.”
Newly released photos show Mr Johnson and officials with party food, beers and wine at three events during lockdown.
His allies last night attacked Ms Gray’s role. Ex-Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “It is hard not to feel that she has been rewarded. This appointment stinks.”
Asked if Mr Johnson should step down, he added: “Of course he shouldn’t. We’ll have to see what the Privileges Committee find. But he did apologise for misleading the House when he got new information.”
He continued on Channel 4 News “there wasn’t a rule that said when you’re at work, you couldn’t eat cake” and demanded that the committee chairman quits.”
Mr Rees-Mogg added: “Mr Johnson inadvertently misled the House; he had been assured that the rules had been followed. I think it would be ridiculous for him to step down. This committee, the Privileges Committee, has a chairman who should step down because she tweeted her view before she became chairman.”
Tory MP Scott Benton asked: “How on earth can you have Keir Starmer’s top political adviser leading the charge against Boris?”
“Is it any wonder people will think that this whole process has been a stitch-up.” While his fellow backbencher Mark Jenkinson blasted: “This is a total circus.”
The committee, which has a Tory majority and is chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman, said that its report is not based on Ms Gray’s work.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson was facing “pretty damning” evidence of wrongdoing.
He recalled that Rishi Sunak too received a lockdown fixed penalty notice at the time, adding he “was obviously very close to all of this and sat on his hands.
“And I think, first and foremost, of the families.”
“Not just those who lost loved ones, but also all of the families who were obeying the rules…while those in government were not.”
He said the PM was “under a very heavy obligation to ensure that we move forward as fast as we can with the Covid inquiry”.
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