Johnson ally warns ex-PM could face parliamentary ‘witch hunt’ over partygate


oris johnson may face a “witch hunt” when he appears earlier MPs is investigating his partygate comments, an ally of the former prime minister has warned.

Lord Greenhalgh said he hopes Mr Johnson will receive a “fair and just hearing”, but expressed concern about the Privileges Committee process.

The colleague, who was deputy mayor when Johnson was at London Town Hall and became a minister under him as prime minister, has backed a campaign calling for Conservative MPs in committee to withdraw from “kangaroo court”.

Asked if he thinks the four Tories should withdraw, he told Times Radio: “I choose my words more carefully than that. I’m afraid it’s going to be a witch hunt.”

He said he is “concerned that we will see a McCarthyist approach to justice in the Privileges Committee” — a reference to U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy’s zealous efforts to find communist sympathizers in the 1950s.

“I certainly hope so parliament process goes smoothly, and that the former Prime Minister should be given a fair and just hearing,” said Lord Greenhalgh.

“We want quick justice – and I think this is taking too long – and we also want some justice.”

Pressured by the Conservative Post campaign for the four Tories on the committee to withdraw from the process, Lord Greenhalgh said: “As an MP I hope there will be fairness, that is my fervent hope.

“But if not, it shouldn’t continue.”

Fellow Tory colleague Lord Kirkhope warned against the “nonsense” of putting pressure on MPs in committee.

“I’m a little concerned that the amount of pressure that’s been put on that committee by a small number of our MPs, which of course has a majority, a Conservative majority, but it’s not a committee that’s really meant to work along party lines. , and I hope not. I think they should fight against that,” he told Times Radio.

Mr Johnson is expected to “robustly defend” his actions, but ultimately his fate will be in the hands of MPs, cabinet minister Oliver Dowden said.

The former prime minister will present a written dossier of evidence to MPs ahead of a public hearing on Wednesday as he seeks to clear his name following allegations he misled parliament over partygate.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Mr Dowden, told Sky News on Sunday: “I am sure Boris Johnson will vigorously defend himself and then it will be for the committee to determine the outcome.”

Asked whether there will be a free vote for Conservative MPs if the committee recommends sanctions, Mr Dowden said this is “standard practice” in House matters.

“I’m not sure if any final decisions have been made, but that would be the precedent we expect to follow,” he said.

A spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “The Privileges Committee will defend Boris Johnson’s position.

“The evidence will show that Boris Johnson did not knowingly mislead parliament.”

In an interim report, the Privileges Committee said the evidence strongly suggests that violations of the coronavirus rules in Issue 10 should have been “obvious” to Mr Johnson.

It is examining evidence surrounding at least four occasions where he may have deliberately misled MPs with his assurances to the House of Commons that rules were being followed.

Allies of Mr Johnson said he would provide a “detailed and convincing” report to the committee before his appearance, which would show that he “did not knowingly mislead the House”.

The Sunday Times reported that he will point to a series of previously classified WhatsApp messages from senior officials and members of his number 10 squad showing he had relied on their advice when making his statements to parliament.

He will also publish reports showing that other senior Downing Street figures believed the gatherings fell under the “workplace exemption” in the lockdown rules.

The committee’s inquiry is chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman, although the seven-member panel has a Tory majority.

It will publish its findings on whether Mr Johnson has contemptuous Parliament and make a recommendation on any penalties, but the final decision will be with the full House of Commons.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he will not try to influence MPs on the committee and has indicated that he will give Tory MPs a free vote on any sanction that may be recommended.

A suspension of 10 sitting days or more for Mr Johnson could eventually lead to a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat, which he held with a majority of 7,210 in 2019.

Former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng suggested that the “immensely intelligent, sensitive, brilliant” Johnson could still make a political comeback and return to lead the party.

He told GB News “he’s been written off so many times”, but “he’s someone I would never rule out or count”.