The “trial of Boris Johnson” – the televised hearings to determine whether the former prime minister lied to parliament – is now barely three weeks away, and after this morning’s document dump we know roughly what that confrontation will look like.
And we know it will be explosive.
MPs on the Tory-dominated privileges committee today gave johnson questions they will be asking in advance – as well the copious evidence these were based on. Moments after, Boris Johnson gave his response, denying everything and saying he was vindicated. At first glance, the two do not match up.
The MPs say law-breaking parties did take place and claim they have found four reasons to think Johnson may have misled parliament:
• By telling MPs in December 2021 that no rules or guidance were broken, when Sue Gray and the police judged otherwise
• By failing to tell the Commons he knew about events where rules and guidance were broken, with evidence showing he was present
• By 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
• By hiding behind the Sue Gray report while it was happening when he knew enough to give MPs answers earlier
Johnson contends that the committee has found no evidence and that nobody told him that laws and guidance were broken.
“I believe implicitly that these events were within the rules. Nor did anybody tell me before or afterward anything to that, to the contrary.”
What is fascinating about the committee report is they set out why they believe this not to be right in quite some detail.
They say he took part. They visited Number 10 in person, and established you could see the press office vestibule – where parties took place – from the entrance to the private Johnson family flat, implying it would have been impossible to miss what was going on.
And critically, they claim key figures around him never advised that the gatherings were within the rules.
They quote an interview with one unnamed adviser who saw Mr Johnson at a meeting on 1 December, the day the PM told MPs “all guidance was followed in Number 10”. The person says “I do not believe we discussed this with Mr Johnson during the meeting.”
On December 8, the day Johnson said “the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”, the same official was in a discussion about what to say, and told the committee: “I did not advise the PM to say this , No.”
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This is damaging for Mr Johnson because it suggests intimate advisors from his inner circle are now speaking candidly about his time in power.
Johnson knows it is impossible to prove a negative, and the committee will never be able to comprehensively say that he wasn’t told the rules were followed since they can’t ever know about every conversation.
This is the gap Johnson will hope to exploit in making the case for his defence.