Boris Johnson’s detailed defence of his conduct during “Partygate” will be published on Monday before a televised showdown with the Commons committee investigating him.
The privileges committee will hold an hours-long hearing with the former prime minister on Wednesday as part of its inquiry into whether he lied to Parliament when he said he did not believe any Covid rules were broken in No 10.
Backers of Mr Johnson claim he is the victim of a “witch hunt” and warn that the UK’s politics will become even more divisive if he is punished by MPs.
When the first reports of Downing Street parties emerged, the then-prime minister told the House of Commons he believed the lockdown rules had been followed at all times.
He was later forced to apologise but insisted he had inadvertently misled Parliament while telling the truth as he understood it at the time.
This argument will be detailed over dozens of pages in a lengthy submission, compiled with the help of top lawyers, which i understands will be published on Monday. The dossier will claim that civil servants and political advisers told Mr Johnson there was no reason to believe the rules had been broken.
A spokesman said: “The privileges committee will vindicate Boris Johnson’s position. The evidence will show that Boris Johnson did not knowingly mislead Parliament.”
One senior MP who is allied to Mr Johnson warned MPs on the committee not to set a precedent by recommending that he be suspended from Parliament. The MP told i: “The privileges committee is politically important beyond Boris. If we move to a more American approach where political opponents are impeached, then it will not stop here and will make political life much more divisive.”
Lord Greenhalgh, a former minister now involved in the grassroots Conservative Democratic Organisation, told Times Radio: “I’m concerned that it will be a witch hunt… I’m concerned that we’re going to get a McCarthyite approach to justice on the privileges committee.”
However, Rishi Sunak has signalled that he will not step in to save Mr Johnson’s career by blocking a suspension if one is recommended. The Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden, one of the Prime Minister’s closest allies, said that MPs would not be told how to vote in the event that Mr Johnson’s fate must be decided by Parliament.
He told Sky News: “It’s a fairly well-established principle that we don’t interfere in House business because I’m sure that Boris Johnson will provide a robust defence and it will be for the committee to make its determination.” Mr Dowden said the Prime Minister had a “lot of respect” for Mr Johnson, adding that he knows “quite how demanding the job of being Prime Minister” is and that Mr Sunak had “respect for all of their predecessors”.
Opposition MPs have hit out at Mr Johnson for seeking to deny responsibility for misleading Parliament. Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader, said: “Boris Johnson is attempting to muddy the waters before his public hearing. This is a shameless and last-ditch attempt to save his political career. The only decent thing left for him to do is to apologise for his actions and finally take some responsibility.”
George Osborne predicted that it would now be impossible for Mr Johnson to stage a political comeback – but Kwasi Kwarteng, the former chancellor, told GB News: “I think he could lead the party again, I think he’s someone who I would never rule out or count out.”