Johnson allies could face punishment for campaign against partygate committee
Boris Johnson’s staunchest allies, including Nadine Dorries and Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, could face suspension from Parliament for their roles in a campaign against the committee investigating the former prime minister’s partygate lies.
The Privileges Committee highlighted comments by senior MPs including Ms Dorries, Sir Jacob and Dame Priti Patel along with peers including Lord Goldsmith – a serving minister – claiming it was part of a co-ordinated attempt to undermine the panel’s work.
The committee said MPs should consider whether their actions could be considered a contempt of Parliament and what further action to take.
The Privileges Committee ultimately triggered Mr Johnson’s resignation from Parliament in protest at its recommendation that he should face a lengthy suspension for misleading the Commons with his denials of lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.
His supporters frequently attacked the Labour-led but Tory-majority committee as a “witch hunt” and “kangaroo court” – with Mr Johnson found to be complicit in the campaign against the panel investigating him.
Other MPs quoted in the report include Mark Jenkinson, Sir Michael Fabricant, Brendan Clarke-Smith and Dame Andrea Jenkyns.
The report said the MPs criticised “did not choose to engage through any proper process such as the submission of letters or evidence to our inquiry, but by attacking the members of the committee, in order to influence their judgment”.
Their aim was to “influence the outcome of the inquiry”, “impede the work of the committee by inducing members to resign from it”, “discredit the committee’s conclusions if those conclusions were not what they wanted” and “discredit the Committee as a whole”, it said.
The report added: “The committee is particularly concerned about attacks mounted by experienced colleagues, including a serving minister of the Crown, a former leader of the House and a former secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport.”
In a reference to Ms Dorries’ work on TalkTV and Sir Jacob’s GB News role, the committee said “two of the Members mounting the most vociferous attacks on the committee did so from the platform of their own hosted TV shows”.
The report also highlighted the involvement of Lord Cruddas and Lord Greenhalgh, both given peerages by Mr Johnson, in a Conservative Post campaign putting pressure on the four Tory members of the committee to quit.
The report said “pressure was applied particularly to Conservative members of the committee”.
“This had the clear intention to drive those members off the committee and so to frustrate the intention of the House that the inquiry should be carried out, or to prevent the inquiry coming to a conclusion which the critics did not want.”
There were also “sustained attempts to undermine and challenge the impartiality” of the committee’s Labour chairwoman, Harriet Harman.
“This unprecedented and co-ordinated pressure did not affect the conduct or outcome of our inquiry. However, it had significant personal impact on individual members and raised significant security concerns.”
The committee said it will be for the House of Commons to decide “what further action, if any, to take” in respect of the MPs named in the report.
It suggested that MPs should be asked to agree that seeking to “impugn the integrity of the committee” or attempt to “lobby or intimidate” its members “is itself capable of being a contempt” of Parliament.
If the Government does not agree to table the motion for debate in the Commons, an MP could write to the Speaker requesting the report be considered.
The committee also said the Lords should be made aware of the report and consider what action to take over the peers identified as part of the campaign.
Mr Clarke-Smith said he was “shocked and disappointed” to be named in the report.
Committee members pointed to his tweet from June 9, when he said: “Tonight we saw the end result of a parliamentary witch-hunt which would put a banana republic to shame.”
But in response to the latest report the Bassetlaw MP said: “This raises serious questions about free speech in a democratic society and my colleagues and I will continue to defend these principles going forward.”
Sir Michael was criticised for tweeting in relation to the Johnson probe: “Serious questions will need to be asked about the manner in which the investigation was conducted.
“These were no jurists, as was apparent by the tone of the examination. The question of calibre, malice and prejudice will need to be answered now or by historians.”
Following his inclusion in the latest report, he said: “I stand by my statement. Some of the members of the Privileges Committee treated their witness, Boris Johnson, with contempt by gestures and other actions.
“Had it been in a law court, the judge would have called them to order. Respect for the committee needs to be earned.”
Mr Jenkinson accused the committee of “gross overreach” after being named in the report, claiming he was being criticised for “a tweet that did not refer to them and was about the media witch hunt of Boris Johnson”.