Boris Johnson has spent over a year being investigated over Partygate. On Thursday, the findings of an inquiry into whether he misled MPs by repeatedly denying that Covid laws were broken in Downing Street will be published.
What is the Privileges Committee?
The special body known as the Privileges Committee examines allegations that an MP has been in contempt of Parliament.
Misleading the Commons, as claimed by opposition parties and some Tory MPs Johnson has done, falls into this category.
While the committee has conducted numerous inquiries before, the incumbent prime minister has never been referred to it for review.
Who is sitting on it?
A cross-party group of seven MPs make up the committee. These are usually the same members who sit on the standards committee, as the two were combined until 2010.
Unlike the Standards Committee, the Privileges Committee does not have additional lay members – independent people who are not politicians – appointed to sit on it.
There is an integrated government majority, with the four Conservative MPs made up of Alberto Costa, Bernard Jenkin, Andy Carter and Charles Walker. Labor’s Harriet Harman is the chair, and another seat is held by Yvonne Fovargue, while the Scottish National Party has one member, Allan Dorans.
It is one of only two committees which, under House of Commons rules, must have a Labor chair. It was managed by Chris Bryant, but he had been a vocal critic of Johnson on Partygate, so he withdrew from the investigation and was replaced by Harman.
How did his investigation go?
All MPs passed a motion last April asking the committee to investigate whether Johnson had misled parliament.
MPs on the committee demanded bundles of evidence, including WhatsApps, door logs and diaries kept by Johnson and his aides during the pandemic.
There were no plans to reinvestigate the rule breach (given that the police had already done so), but whether Johnson was telling the truth when he denied that the Covid rules were broken and claimed that he had been repeatedly assured that the events of No 10 were within the rules.
The investigation was slow to start; the government redacted large swathes of evidence, Harman succeeded Bryant, and a conservative member was also replaced when they resigned. The Queen’s death also delayed proceedings.
Over the months, the committee tried to continue its work in a turbulent political environment – the fall of the Johnson government, followed by Liz Truss, then the rocky start that Rishi Sunak faced.
The government eventually relented and turned over unredacted evidence. Questionnaires have been sent by the committee to witnesses and a date has been set for Johnson to testify in March 2022.
After his televised testimony session, the process was further delayed by a new cache of records turned over to the committee by officials who were combing through Johnson’s diaries with a view to handing them over to the Covid public inquiry.
The committee sent its findings to Johnson privately last Thursday, giving him two weeks to respond. But Johnson claimed he was unfairly judged against him and resigned as MP to avoid punishment.
The publication schedule for the report has been brought forward. But he faced one final delay this week.
The report was to be signed off by the committee on Monday, but Johnson sent a final submission that evening at 11:57 p.m. The report was finally officially completed on Tuesday and is expected to be released on Thursday.
What will happen next?
After the publication of the report, it will be up to the government to table a motion endorsing its conclusions. MEPs can vote for or against, abstain and even table amendments if they wish.
Government insiders have drawn up plans for a motion that says the House of Commons has ‘taken note’ of the report, rather than the traditional form of the words for a committee report, which says MPs have ‘agreed’ to it. .
Such a move is seen as a way to encourage Johnson’s supporters not to vote against the motion and trigger further internal party ructions. Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt is expected to announce the date of the vote on Thursday morning. Sources said the vote would likely take place on Monday.