Boris Johnson urged to ‘tell the truth’ on Partygate, as two-thirds of voters demand exit as MP if he lied
Boris Johnson has been urged to be “tell the truth for once” at this week’s Partygate grilling, as Tory MPs fear the televised hearing risks reigniting Tory psychodrama after a successful few weeks for Rishi Sunak.
The former Tory PM is fighting to save his career as he hunkers down with his legal team to prepare for Wednesday’s four-hour showdown on whether he lied to parliament about his knowledge of rule-breaking parties during Covid.
In the dirtiest political fight seen in years, Johnson allies have launched an attempt to undermine the inquiry, calling it a “witchhunt” and putting pressure on four Tory MPs on the committee to quit.
On Monday Mr Johnson will hand over a 50-page dossier the privileges committee in a bid to counter the cross-party group’s initial report which found rule breaches would have been “obvious” to the former PM.
But senior Tory MPs told The Independent said it would be unwise for Mr Johnson to try to attack the committee or former civil servant Sue Gray on Wednesday – urging him to “co-operate” and answer honestly.
And an exclusive new poll for The Independent has found two in three voters think the ex-Tory leader should stand down as an MP if the parliamentary probe finds that he misled parliamnent.
Some 67 per cent of voters say Mr Johnson shouldn’t wait to be punished and should quit his seat if he is found to have lied, according to the Savanta ComRes survey. Some 21 per cent believe he should stay on, regardless of the committee’s finding.
The ex-PM faces a possible by-election in his Uxbridge and Ruislip constituency if he is found to have broken rules – but he still hopes he can clear his name and stage an unlikely return to No 10.
Allies of Mr Johnson claim that he will provide a “detailed and compelling” account to the committee before his appearance, showing that he “did not knowingly mislead the House”.
Sir Bob Neill, the chair of the Commons Justice select committee, called on Boris to “tell the truth” in front of MPs. He said: “I would say just tell the truth. Just be straight and serious for once … But I would not hold my breath”.
Sir Bob described the hearing as an “irritation” – but hopes that “in the longer term might remind people as to how things have improved” under Rishi Sunak.
One former Tory minister said Mr Johnson would do well to “fully cooperate and be helpful” to the committee if he wanted to retain any support from Tory MPs ahead of any recommended punishment.
Lord Cruddas, the former Tory party treasurer who launched the Conservative Democratic Organisation (CDO) after Mr Johnson was kicked out of No 10, has led claims the committee is a “stitch-up”.
Conservative Post, a website affiliated with CDO, has launched a petition urging party members to email the four Tory MPs who sit on the committee, urging them to quit the “banana republic”.
The draft emails members are encouraged to send warn the MPs – Alberto Costa, Sir Bernard Jenkin, Andy Carter and Laura Farris – of “deep concern and disappointment over your participation in the Labour-led investigation”.
Commons leader Penny Mordaunt warned earlier this week that a “dim view” would be taken of any MP or peer who made attempts to pressure the privileges committee probe to halt its work.
Mr Johnson and his allies claim that the committee’s interim report relies on evidence gathered by former senior civil servant Sue Gray during her Partygate probe finished in May 2022.
But the eight-person committee led by Labour veteran Harriet Harman has made clear it has gathered evidence directly from witnesses independent of Ms Gray’s report. And it is believed Labour did not approach Ms Gray about becoming Keir Starmer’s chief of staff until November.
One senior Tory MP has said Mr Johnson and his allies had gone “full Trump” in their effort to discredit the committee ahead of a Commons vote on any punishment.