Boris Johnson: Continuing legal assistance for MPs' investigation

Richard Johnson

A government contract to give Boris Johnson taxpayer-funded legal counsel throughout the MPs' Partygate investigation has been renewed.

The probe, commissioned by the Commons last year, is set to examine whether the former prime minister misled Parliament over the scandal.

The most recent contract, which was set to expire on Tuesday, has now been extended until 30 April.

Hearings for the investigation are expected to begin in the coming weeks.

The Commons Privileges Committee's investigation was started last April after Mr. Johnson was accused by opposition parties of lying to MPs about his knowledge of events held in government buildings during Covid lockdowns.

Regarding Mr. Johnson's support from the taxpayers during the investigation, concerns have been raised.

The contract, however, is justified, according to the government, because it relates to Mr. Johnson's actions while he was still a minister.

According to official records, the contract, which had an initial value of £129,700, started last August, when Mr. Johnson was still in Downing Street.

The contract was extended in December until 28 February, and its value increased by £92,300 to a total of $222,000 as a result.

According to procurement records, this total value has not changed under the most recent extension of two months.

The highest ranking official at the Cabinet Office, the organization that approved the expenditure, has not ruled out the possibility that the total cost will be higher.

He told MPs last month, "We hope that we will not need to spend more than that.".

"We must defer to the committee's work, which will determine the conduct, how long it lasts, and other factors. ".

According to him, "full scrutiny from all the relevant people, including commercial, legal, and propriety" was given to the contract.

Photo of Boris Johnson included in the Sue Gray report
In a formal report, civil servant Sue Gray published pictures of Boris Johnson at events at No 10.

Whether Mr. Johnson misled MPs in his Commons statements about Partygate constituted "contempt of Parliament" will be the subject of the committee's investigation.

After the committee decided it wouldn't need to demonstrate that he purposefully misled MPs in order to establish that he committed this offense in September, a legal opinion produced under the contract criticized the committee's strategy.

This interpretation of the rules, according to Mr. Johnson's opinion, which was posted on the government website four days before he left office, was "fundamentally flawed.".

Later, the committee retaliated with a paper of its own in which it defended how its investigation was handled.

It also criticized the document's release, calling it "highly irregular" for inquiry evidence to be made public by the government before being taken into consideration by MPs.

Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden claimed that the document was made public because of the investigation's "exceptional circumstances" in a letter to another committee earlier this month.

After the Partygate scandal broke in the latter half of 2021, Mr. Johnson repeatedly assured the Commons that pandemic protocols had been followed.

However, a subsequent official investigation discovered widespread rule-breaking had occurred, and Mr. Johnson was one of 83 people who received fines from the police for attending illegal events.

He has acknowledged that his initial claims to MPs have since turned out to be false, but he has denied intentionally misleading Parliament.

Anyone who believed he had been "knowingly covering up" lockdown parties would be "out of their mind," he claimed earlier this month.

Sir Keir, the leader of Labour, has blasted the government for footing the bill for Mr. Johnson's legal counsel, saying he ought to "pick up the bill" himself.

The contract has also been criticized by the Liberal Democrats, who want the government to void it. Wendy Chamberlain, the party's chief whip, called it "outrageous."

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