UNITED KINGDOM: Lawyers hired by former British Prime minister Boris Johnson to rubbish the Commons Partygate inquiry have a “systemic misunderstanding” of the legal parliamentary process and used “misplaced analogies”, according to a group of veteran MPs.
In a rebellious campaign to evade the legal probe into the former prime minister being derailed, the privileges committee crafted a casebook to refute criticism about its work.
The MPs lashed out at “personal attacks” levelled against them by Johnson’s allies, saying the unprecedented and groundless criticism could constitute contempt of Parliament.
Legal advice from David Pannick and Jason Pobjoy commissioned in the penultimate days of Johnson’s tenure at a whopping cost of £130,000 to the taxpayer argued that the committee was using a “fundamentally flawed approach” and unfair procedures.
The committee’s rebuttal file was due to be published earlier this month but was delayed due to the Queen’s demise and wrangling over who should fill a vacant spot among its seven members.
Published on Monday, the “special report” says Lord Pannick and Pobjoy’s advice was “founded on a systemic misunderstanding of the parliamentary process and misplaced analogies with the criminal law”.
Moreover, the report reveals claims that MPs needed to show Johnson’s misleading of parliament was intentional were wrong, as it was implicit in the motion that set up the inquiry based on precedent and parliamentary rulebook known as Erskine May.
It rubbishes the claim that punishing politicians who unknowingly mislead parliament would have a “chilling effect”, saying ministerial mistakes in the Commons are not a problem “if corrected quickly”.
“If we find that the house was misled, one question the committee is likely to consider is how quickly and sincerely Johnson sought to correct the record,” it says.
Johnson told MPs in December 2021 that “all guidance was followed completely in No 10”, six months before Scotland Yard issued over 100 fines, including to the then prime minister personally, for partaking in law-breaking COVID parties.
Pannick and Pobjoy also said that it was unfair that the anonymity of the secret whistleblowers who give evidence, may not be revealed to Johnson.
The committee admits that “the prospect of anonymous evidence may raise issues about fairness which will need to be tackled”, but says this “would necessarily be on a case-by-case basis”, and only if it were satisfied the evidence was “relevant and credible”.
No such anonymous witnesses with any legitimate information have yet come forward, “and it may be that this situation does not arise”, the committee says. If it does, “we will publish proposals for a fair process and Johnson will be invited to comment”, the MPs add.
Johnson appealed to the privileges committee in a letter, just four days before resigning as the prime minister, saying that “what Lord Pannick has to say speaks for itself”, and adding, “Please consider this a formal representation on my behalf.”
As per The Guardian’s revelations last week, the revered veteran Conservative MP Charles Walker was in the line-up to assume the last of the four Tory seats on the seven-member committee.