Boris Johnson has done everything he possibly could to discredit the Privileges Committee’s report on claims that he lied to MPs over partygate. But so far he has met fierce resistance.
After declaring war with allegations of a “witch-hunt” and kangaroo court”, his latest attack was directed at committee member Sir Bernard Jenkin, after a report that he attended a party that broke lockdown rules.
In a letter to Harriet Harman, who chairs the committee, Mr Johnson said if Sir Bernard broke the rules he was no longer a “valid judge” and was guilty of “flagrant and monstrous hypocrisy”.
Strong stuff. And after earlier accusing Sir Bernard of “a total contempt of parliament” and demanding his resignation from the committee, Mr Johnson wrote: “He should have recused himself.”
And he added, in typical Johnson hyperbole: “I really find it incredible – and nauseating – that this matter is emerging at this stage of the process.”
Nauseating? No doubt the bereaved relatives of COVID victims – already infuriated by the row over concealing WhatsApp messages from the official inquiry – will be nauseated by Mr Johnson’s protests.
Mr Johnson and Sir Bernard used to be Brexit allies. And when Sir Bernard was appointed to chair the powerful Liaison Committee of MPs, which regularly grills the PM, he was seen as a Johnson crony.
But Sir Bernard has since proved he’s no patsy on the Liaison Committee. And it is reported that he voted with the majority of the seven MPs on the Privileges Committee who concluded that Mr Johnson is guilty.
Opposition MPs were quick to denounce Mr Johnson’s 11th-hour attack on Sir Bernard as an act of desperation.
The Lib Dems’ deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “This is a typical distraction tactic from Boris Johnson that doesn’t change the fact that he broke the law and lied about it.”
It seems that members of the Privileges Committee agreed, with one source calling it “desperate stuff” and pointing out – rightly – that the committee is ruling on Mr Johnson’s claims in the Commons rather than the gatherings themselves.
The event that riled Mr Johnson – or, more likely, provided an opportunity for him to attack Sir Bernard – was a drinks reception hosted by Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing for Sir Bernard’s wife on her 65th birthday on 8 December 2020.
The Independent quoted Dame Eleanor saying she held a “business meeting” that evening and claiming: “I was so strict with my two-metre ruler and told everyone we will adhere to those rules and be very careful.”
Sir Bernard told the Guido Fawkes website, which reported the event that triggered this blue-on-blue row: “I did not attend any drinks parties during lockdown.” But asked if he had anything to drink, he said: “I don’t recall.”
Mr Johnson launched his campaign of blistering attacks on the committee in his resignation statement last Friday when he accused it of “egregious bias” and claimed its MPs were determined to “drive me out of Parliament”.
Since then, Mr Johnson has been haranguing the Privileges Committee all this week.
At 11.57pm on Monday night – yes, really – he sent a letter containing “further representations”, a move which appears to have delayed publication of the report by at least 24 hours.
Then, despite probably causing the delay himself, on Tuesday evening he declared: “The Privileges Committee should publish their report and let the world judge their nonsense. They have no excuse for delay.
“Their absurdly unfair rules do not even allow any criticism of their findings. I have made my views clear to the committee in writing – and will do so more widely when they finally publish.”
Of course he will. Stand by for fireworks.
And so will his cheerleader-in-chief Nadine Dorries, who conveniently has not yet carried out her threat to quit as an MP, raising the possibility that she will brutally condemn the report when MPs debate it on Monday.
How many more MPs will join her in trashing the report? Jacob Rees-Mogg, no doubt, and the other Johnson ultras. But they risk becoming a dwindling minority on the Tory benches in the Commons.
Irrespective of the former PM’s 11th hour attack on the committee, the next few days – from publication of the report to Monday’s Commons debate – will reveal whether a Johnson comeback is a realistic possibility or he’s a busted flush.