A usually-obscure House of Commons committee is set to take centre stage on Wednesday as former prime minister Boris Johnson gambles his political future on an appearance before the Privileges Committee.
Officially titled the Committee of Privileges, the cross-party group of MPs is tasked with investigating potential contempt of Parliament and breaches of privilege, which are referred to it by the House.
Mr Johnson will face scrutiny on Wednesday as the committee investigates whether he misled MPs by repeatedly insisting that no rules were broken in Downing Street during lockdown.
What is the committee doing?
The committee was first asked to investigate Partygate in April 2022, with the MPs tasked to consider whether Mr Johnson knowingly misled Parliament when he insisted there had been no breaches of Covid-19 rules in Downing Street.
Mr Johnson is so far the only witness to be called in connection with the probe, which follows last year’s Sue Gray report that found numerous lockdown breaches in No 10.
In its interim report, the committee said the evidence strongly suggested breaches of coronavirus rules in No 10 would have been “obvious” to Mr Johnson.
Mr Johnson has accepted “the House of Commons was misled by my statements that the rules and guidance had been followed completely at No 10” but claims his comments were “made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time”.
The committee’s findings will be critical to Mr Johnson’s political survival amid speculation that he is plotting a comeback.
If found to have breached rules, he faces the prospect of being temporarily suspended from the Commons – a step which would allow his constituents in the marginal constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip to attempt to recall him and force a by-election.
Who is on the Privileges Committee?
The committee is currently comprised of seven MPs, and roughly reflects the balance of power in the Commons – including four Conservatives, two Labour MPs, and one Scottish National Party MP.
Chair – Harriet Harman
Ms Harman, the long-serving MP for Camberwell and Peckham, is a widely-respected Labour figure who served in Cabinet under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
She was picked to chair the investigation of Boris Johnson after the committee’s former chair, fellow Labour MP Chris Bryant, recused himself from the probe because of his public comments attacking the ex-PM’s conduct.
Conservative – Sir Bernard Jenkin
Sir Bernard, MP for Harwich and North Essex, holds a powerful role in Parliament in his own right as Chair of the Liaison Committee, which frequently scrutinises the sitting prime minister on policy matters.
A vocal Brexiteer and ally of Mr Johnson, he previously chaired the European Research Group of Eurosceptics – but has fiercely defended the impartiality of the committee’s Partygate probe.
Last year, he hit back at allies of Mr Johnson waging a “terrorist campaign to try and discredit the committee”, insisting: “It’s our duty to carry out this inquiry.”
Conservative – Sir Charles Walker
Sir Charles, MP for Broxbourne, previously chaired the Procedure Committee that considers the practice and procedure of the House of Commons.
A long-serving backbencher who is widely respected on the Tory benches, Sir Charles announced last year that he plans to retire from politics at the next election because politics has become a “pretty toxic environment”.
Conservative – Alberto Costa
The MP for South Leicestershire since 2015, Mr Costa held a junior government post under Theresa May but was sacked in 2019 over an amendment to Brexit legislation seeking to protect the rights of EU nationals in the UK.
He was handed another junior role in 2020, serving as parliamentary private secretary to Suella Braverman when she was Attorney General. However, he quit last year to avoid a conflict of interest with his role investigating Mr Johnson.
Last summer, Mr Costa criticised a “breakdown in good governance” during Mr Johnson’s premiership as he called on Tory leadership candidates to demonstrate how they would ensure higher standards.
Conservative – Andy Carter
The MP for Warrington South has only been in Parliament since 2019, among the wave of 45 Tories who bested Labour in Red Wall constituencies.
He had a junior role as parliamentary private secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions but quit last year to avoid a conflict in his role investigating Mr Johnson.
He said at the time: “Contempt is a matter which would require Mr Johnson to resign if he were to be found in breach. The inquiry is ongoing and can only come to an end with a resolution of the House of Commons.
“As I have said before, I, along with all members of the committee, made commitments not to discuss the matters under consideration at the Privileges Committee to maintain the integrity of the parliamentary process.”
Labour – Yvonne Fovargue
The MP for Makerfield since 2010, Ms Fovargue was shadow minister for local government under Jeremy Corbyn, but backed moderate leadership candidates Owen Smith and Lisa Nandy.
Ms Fovargue, who quit the Labour frontbench in 2019 after rebelling on Brexit, was handed a cross-party role as trade envoy to Tunisia and Libya last year.
SNP – Allan Dorans
The MP for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock since 2019, Mr Dorans has plenty of experience looking into allegations of wrongdoing as a former detective inspector for the Metropolitan Police.
In Parliament, he has been most prominent in campaigning for justice for murdered police officer Yvonne Fletcher.
He has not made any public statements about Partygate but previously poured scorn on Dominic Cummings over his lockdown visit to Barnard Castle, saying in 2020: “There cannot be one rule for them and another for the rest of us. People must have confidence that the Tory government is following its own rules.”