It has been many months since I was warned of the Privileges Committee’s intentions. They told me it was a kangaroo court. They told me that it was tirelessly pushed by Harriet Harman’s political agenda and fed with distorted legal advice – with the sole political aim of finding me guilty and expelling me from Parliament.
They also warned me that most members – particularly Harriet Harman – had already expressed biased views that would not be tolerated in normal court proceedings. Some alarmists even pointed out that the majority of the committee voted to remain, emphasizing that Bernard Jenkins’ personal dislike for me is historic and well known.
Frankly, I was in disbelief when I first heard these warnings. When it was first suggested that there should be such an inquiry by this committee, I thought it was just a time-wasting procedural ploy by the Labor Party.
I would not have believed for a minute that a committee of deputies could act against me on the facts, and I could not imagine that a reasonable person could not understand what had happened.
I knew exactly which events I had attended in number 10. I knew with my own eyes what I had seen and, like the current Prime Minister, I believed that these events were legitimate. I believed my participation was legitimate and necessary for my job; and that is indeed the implication of the full police investigation.
The only exception is the event on June 19, 2020, the so-called birthday celebration, where me and then-Chancellor Rishi Sunak were fined possibly under circumstances that still baffle me (I’ve been having lunch with people at my desk , with whom I worked every day).
When I told the House of Commons on 1 December 2021 that “the guidance has been fully followed” (in paragraph 10), I meant business. It wasn’t just what I thought, it was what we all thought – that we were following the rules and following directions fully – despite the difficulties of maintaining social distancing at all times.
The Committee now says that I deliberately misled the House and in the moment I spoke I deliberately withheld from the House my knowledge of illegal incidents.
That is trash. It is a lie. In order to arrive at this crazy conclusion, the committee has to say a number of things that are patently absurd or contrary to the facts.
First, they say that I must have known that the farewell events I attended were not sanctioned workplace events because – be it – under the committee’s interpretation of the Covid rules in this country NO SUCH EVENT lawfully should have taken place.
This is obviously wrong. I was correct in believing that these events were reasonably necessary for professional reasons. We have overcome a pandemic. We had hundreds of staff battling Covid sometimes 24/7. Your morale was important in this fight. It was important for me to thank them.
But don’t just listen to me. Take it from the Metropolitan Police. The police investigated my role in all of these events. In no case did they find that what I had done was illegal. Most importantly, speaking in the House of Commons, it did not occur to me that the events were unlawful.
I believed we were working and we mostly talked about nothing but work mostly about Covid. Why would I have attempted to hide my knowledge of something illegal from the Chamber when that account could so easily be contradicted by others? Why would we have an official photographer if we thought we were breaking the law?
We didn’t believe what we did was wrong, and after a year of work, the Privileges Committee hasn’t found a shred of evidence that we did it.
Their argument can be summed up as follows: “Look at this picture – this is Boris Johnson with a glass in his hand. He must have known the event was illegal. That’s why he lied.”
That’s a lot of utter tripe. This picture showed me at my place of work trying to encourage and thank my officers in a way that I felt was vital to the government and the country as a whole, and which I felt was completely within the rules.
For the committee to now say that all such events – “thank you” and birthdays – were inherently illegal is ridiculous and contrary to the intentions of those who set the rules (including me) and contrary to the findings of the mead; and above all, I never thought for a moment that they were illegal – either at the time or when I spoke in the House of Commons.
The Committee finds it impossible to believe the conclusions of its own report now that it has emerged that Sir Bernard Jenkin attended at least one “birthday function” which allegedly included alcohol and food on 8 December 2020, the birthday of his wife Anne were served and the number exceeded six inside.
Why was it illegal for me to thank the staff and why was it legal for Sir Bernard to attend his wife’s birthday party?
Hypocrisy is rank. Like Harriet Harman, he should have withdrawn from the investigation as he is obviously conflicted.
The remainder of the committee’s report is mainly a repetition of their earlier non-points. They have nothing new to say in terms of content. They admit they found no evidence that I was warned before or after an event that it was illegal. This is certainly very revealing. If we truly believed that these events were unauthorized – with all the political sensibilities involved – then there would be a trace in all the thousands of messages sent to me that the committee had access to.
It is absurd to say, as the committee does, that people were simply too afraid to voice their concerns to their superiors. Really? Was Simon Case too scared to bring his concerns to my attention? Was Sue Gray or Rishi Sunak?
The committee acknowledges that the guidance allowed for social distancing of less than one meter when there was no alternative – although it refuses to consider any other mitigation measures – including regular testing – that we have put in place.
You keep missing the point on purpose. The question isn’t whether perfect social distancing was maintained at all times in Number 10 – that obviously wasn’t possible, as I’ve said very often. The question is, given the building’s limitations, did I feel we did enough with corrective action to follow the guidance – and I did, and so did everyone else.
They grudgingly accept that I was right when I told the House of Commons that I had been given repeated assurances that the rules relating to the December 18 event were being followed in the media room, but they absurdly and incoherently try to say that the assurances by Jack Doyle and James Slack were insufficient to constitute “repeated” assurances – completely and willfully ignoring the affidavit of two MPs, Andrew Griffiths and Sarah Dines, who also said they had heard such assurances given to me .
Perhaps the craziest claim of all is the claim by the Mystic Meg committee that I saw the December 18th event with my own eyes. They say, without any evidence whatsoever, that at 9:58 p.m. that day I looked over at the media room for a crucial second as I walked into the apartment – and that I saw what I recognized as an unauthorized event in progress.
First, the committee completely ignored the general testimony that evening that people worked all the time, even if some were drinking at their desks. How on earth do these psychics know exactly what was going on at 9:58 p.m.?
How do you know what I saw? What retinal prints have they somehow discovered that are completely beyond my reach? I didn’t see anything in the press room as far as I can remember, at least nothing illegal.
Officials have been busy preparing difficult messages about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and a Christmas lockdown, the committee has learned.
It is a testament to the Committee’s desperation that it is incompetently and absurdly attempting to link me to an illegal event – with an argument so flimsy it belongs in one of Bernard Jenkins’ naturist colonies.
Your argument is that I saw this event, thought it was illegal, and had it in mind when I spoke to the House of Representatives. On all three points, they speak from the bottom of their hearts. If I saw an illegal event and registered it as illegal, why was I on my own? Why not the Cabinet Secretary or Sue Gray or the then Chancellor who was patrolling the same corridors at the time?
The committee imputes to me and myself a secret knowledge of illegal operations that was somehow not shared by any other official or minister in Number 10. This is absolutely incredible. That’s the trick.
This report is a farce. I was wrong in believing in the Committee or in its goodwill. The horrifying truth is that I am not the one who has twisted the truth for my purposes. It’s Harriet Harman and her committee.
This is a terrible day for MEPs and for democracy. This decision means no MP is free from vendetta or expulsion on fabricated allegations from a tiny minority who want to see his or her exit from the House of Commons.
I have not the slightest contempt for Parliament or for the important work that the Privileges Committee should be doing.
But for the Privileges Committee to use its prerogatives in this anti-democratic manner to bring about the final stabbing in a protracted political assassination—that is undignified.
It is up to the people of this country to decide who sits in Parliament, not Harriet Harman.