Response to partygate inquiry findings ‘matter for MPs’ – Gove

The Privileges Committee will meet in the wake of Boris Johnson’s dramatic Commons exit to conclude its inquiry.

Michael Gove said it will be up to MPs to determine the response to the Privileges Committee’s findings against Boris Johnson as he appeared to distance the Government from the parliamentary process.

The Privileges Committee will meet in the wake of Mr Johnson’s dramatic Commons exit to conclude its inquiry into whether the former prime minister misled Parliament over No 10 lockdown parties.

MPs have pledged to continue the investigation process after Mr Johnson stepped down as an MP and launched an attack on the probe, branding it a “witch hunt”.

The panel is set to meet in Westminster on Monday with a view to deciding when to publish its report.

There has been speculation the seven-person committee, which is chaired by veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman but has a Conservative majority, could release its findings in a matter of days.

Levelling Up Secretary Mr Gove on Monday said any vote on the findings is a “matter for the House of Commons”.

“One of the things at the heart of Rishi Sunak’s approach to government is that you respect due process. So ultimately the House of Commons, having set this committee up, will receive the report and will then decide what to do.”

Harriet Harman
Harriet Harman is due to chair Monday’s meeting to discuss publishing the partygate report Niall Carson/PA)

The probe is thought to have ruled that Mr Johnson lied to Parliament when he told MPs Covid rules were followed in Downing Street despite boozy parties taking place while social distancing restrictions were in place.

Reports suggest the panel was set to recommend at least a 10-day suspension, reaching the threshold for a by-election to be potentially triggered in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.

Mr Johnson accused the committee of “bias” and likened it to a “kangaroo court”.

The Privileges Committee, in response, said Mr Johnson “impugned the integrity of the House” with his attack.

While the former Tory Party leader will no longer be impacted by a decision to suspend him, given he has stood down from the green benches, the committee could choose to apply other sanctions.

Former Commons speaker John Bercow was banned last year from being permitted a pass to gain entry to the parliamentary estate after being found guilty of bullying by Westminster’s Independent Expert Panel.

Mr Gove defended the integrity of the committee but refused to rebuke party colleagues during an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“It is not my job or role to censor or police anyone’s views in a matter of public debate,” he said.

“I have respect for the work that they have done and I think that we need to respect again the integrity of the process and wait until the report is published before then debating its conclusions and the consequences.

“The second thing that I want to say is that I do deprecate the fact that they are now in a position where, as reported, they have to seek or have been granted additional security.”

Budget 2021
Rishi Sunak could face questions about Boris Johnson’s resignation after his tech speech (PA)

Mr Gove said the Government followed the “appropriate procedure” and the correct “precedent” in its handling of Mr Johnson’s honours list.

The long-serving Cabinet minister also declined to criticise his former party leader or Johnson loyalists Nadine Dorries and Nigel Adams, whose resignations have triggered tricky by-elections for the Government.

“By-elections during the course of any government’s time are always challenging but we have good candidates I know that will be in place. I’m looking forward to supporting them.

“Elections are part of political life. It’s also the case, I think, that you do best in elections when you concentrate on good government.”

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said the UK Covid-19 Inquiry could be “frustrated” following a legal submission to Baroness Hallett’s investigation.

The pandemic leader has offered to hand unredacted WhatsApp messages and notebooks to the inquiry, bypassing the Cabinet Office and its judicial review.

Ministers have begun a High Court challenge to stop the chairwoman being given what they regard as “unambiguously irrelevant” materials.

A letter sent to the inquiry on Friday by Government lawyers said Mr Johnson took “a different position” and suggested officials would not give him back materials if “he intended simply to provide it, without protection, on to the inquiry”.

Mr Johnson told The Times the Cabinet Office is refusing to return his notebooks in case he turns them over to the inquiry, which is due to hear from witnesses for the first time this week.

“The Cabinet Office’s foot-dragging approach to the inquiry is costing public time and money,” he told the newspaper.

He said the Government’s position is “now — in my view — frustrating the inquiry’s work”.

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