Boris Johnson’s future is in the balance as he is set to give evidence to MPs investigating whether he misled parliament over partygate denials.
The former prime minister will appear before the cross-party privileges committee at 2pm on Wednesday for a session of questioning that is due to last four hours – but could be longer.
All seven committee members, led by Labour veteran Harriet Harman, will use Mr Johnson’s appearance to determine if he deliberately misled the Commons when he told MPs no COVID rules or guidance had been broken.
Boris Johnson to appear in front of the privileges committee from 2pm on Wednesday – watch and follow live on Sky News
An interim report published earlier this month, at the request of Mr Johnson’s lawyers, said the evidence the committee had gathered “strongly suggests” it would have been “obvious” to Mr Johnson COVID rules were being breached at Downing Street gatherings he attended.
On the eve of his appearance, the former prime minister repeated his denial that he did anything wrong and the interim report showed that.
He said: “I look forward very much to the committee session tomorrow.
“I believe that the evidence conclusively shows that I did not knowingly or recklessly mislead parliament.
“The committee has produced not a shred of evidence to show that I have.”
PM to swear oath on Bible
On Monday, Mr Johnson said he accepted the House of Commons “was misled by my statements” but said they “were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time”.
The former prime minister and his team are understood to be “very confident” ahead of his appearance, which will involve him taking an oath as he swears on the King James Bible.
But, if Mr Johnson fails to convince the committee he did not deliberately mislead the Commons, he could be found to have committed a contempt of parliament.
A suspension of more than 10 days could result in a high-profile by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat – though MPs will have to vote on any recommendations for punishment from the committee.
It could be several weeks before the committee decides on its conclusion and possible punishment, with Rishi Sunak giving Tory MPs a free vote on the recommendations.
The key parts of Boris Johnson’s partygate evidence
How he defends each of his partygate statements to parliament
At the committee hearing, which will be broadcast live, it is understood some short video and audio clips from Parliament TV of Mr Johnson’s denials to the Commons on three dates in 2021 and 2022 will be shown.
Mr Johnson and chair Ms Harman will make some opening remarks and the former prime minister will then be questioned.
The committee will be limited to investigating whether Mr Johnson misled the Commons, if so whether that amounted to a contempt of the Commons, and if so how serious a contempt it was.
It will not be considering whether anybody else was culpable.
Johnson trusted aides’ assurances
In Mr Johnson’s 52 pages of written evidence, handed to the committee on Monday and published on Tuesday, he said he attended five of the events being considered but he “honestly believed that these events were lawful work gatherings”.
He also said he trusted the assurances of key aides and claimed “drinking wine or exchanging gifts” at work did not break the law.
On the fine he received from the Met Police for attending a birthday gathering in Downing Street, he said it “remains unclear” how he and Rishi Sunak, who was also fined, committed an offence.
“No cake was eaten” and “no one even sang Happy Birthday”, he said.
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Mr Johnson also said it was “unprecedented and absurd” to claim that relying on assurances from “trusted advisers” was “in some way reckless”.
But the committee hit back with a scathing statement that said the submission contained “no new evidence” in his defence, and an earlier version had to be re-submitted because of “errors and typos”.