A UK Parliamentary investigation into Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s partygate scandal is “unfair” and “fundamentally flawed,” a top lawyer hired by the government has argued.
The probe being conducted by the Privileges Committee of the House of Commons aims to establish whether Johnson committed contempt of Parliament by telling the House on several occasions that no parties were held in Downing Street at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in violation of lockdown rules.
The law-breaking parties in Downing Street were among the scandals that forced Johnson’s resignation as Conservative Party leader on July 7.
If he is found to have lied to Parliament, he could be suspended from the House of Commons or even kicked out in a by-election after a recall petition.
But Lord Pannick, a leading barrister who also sits in the House of Lords, said the investigation would be ruled “unlawful” by courts.
The top lawyer made the comments in legal advice commissioned by Downing Street, which was published on Sept. 2, just days before Johnson is set to leave his post as prime minister.
In the 22-page document, Lord Pannick argued that “the committee has failed to understand that to prove contempt against Mr. Johnson, it is necessary to establish that he intended to mislead the House.”
“In our opinion, the committee is proposing to adopt an approach to the substantive issues which is wrong in principle in important respects, and the committee is also proposing to adopt an unfair procedure,” his legal advice states.
He also suggested that a failure by the committee to make an explicit distinction on whether Johnson misled MPs intentionally could have a “chilling effect” on parliamentary debate, with MPs fearful of misspeaking.
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who chairs the Privileges Committee but has recused himself from the partygate inquiry, dismissed the government-commissioned legal opinion as “disgraceful bullying.”
He noted on Twitter that House of Commons processes allow ministers to correct the record if they misspeak.
Thangam Debbonaire, shadow leader of the House of Commons, said Johnson needs to show that “he corrected the record at the earliest possible opportunity.”
“Otherwise, I’m afraid to say, it just looks like the sleaze and the lies and the cover-ups that people have described it as,” she told the BBC.
The Liberal Democrats demanded to know how much taxpayer money had been spent on commissioning the advice.
Lib Dem Cabinet spokesperson Christine Jardine said: “People are tired of these expensive attempts by this government to manufacture ways for Boris Johnson to wriggle out of any consequences of his actions.”
PA Media contributed to this report.