Boris Johnson calls for Tory MP on privileges committee to resign


Boris Johnson has called for a Conservative MP on the privileges committee to resign as a furious blue-on-blue row erupted on the eve of a long-awaited report that will find he misled parliament over Partygate.

In an attempt to disparage the findings of the report, Johnson called allegations that Bernard Jenkin attended a birthday drinks in parliament during Covid restrictions a “total contempt of parliament” and said he has “no choice” but to recuse himself from the panel.

The move was called “utterly desperate” by senior Tories who believe the storm was blown up by Johnson to undermine the privileges committee’s damning findings against him, which are set to be published on Thursday.

But Johnson’s allies lined up to pile pressure on Jenkin, who is one of four Tories on the committee that signed off its report into Johnson’s Partygate denials after a year-long inquiry.

Jenkin, parliament’s most senior select committee chair and a former Tory deputy chair, was said by the Guido Fawkes website to have attended an event on 8 December 2020 in parliament. It was reportedly the date of his wife’s birthday, with a “drinks party” held by Eleanor Laing, a Commons deputy speaker, in her office.

Several people were in attendance, including Jenkin, it was claimed. Guido Fawkes said when it contacted Jenkin for comment that he insisted: “I did not attend any drinks parties during lockdown.” When pressed further to see if he would deny having a drink at his wife’s birthday celebration, Jenkin said: “I don’t recall.”

Laing told Guido Fawkes the event was in the rules. In a statement, she said: “At the beginning of the pandemic I took advice on how many could be present in a room, I had the room measured and I kept a two metre ruler so that I could always verify that nobody who was working here was put at risk.”

Bernard Jenkin, his wife and a spokesperson for the privileges committee were all contacted with a request for comment from the Guardian.

An ally of Jenkin said it was a work event held by senior figures in the Women2Win network, which encourages more Tory women to stand for political office, and that he arrived to collect his wife.

At the time of the event, the second national lockdown had recently lifted across England and the “tiers” system was in force. London was in tier 2, meaning households were not allowed to mix indoors apart from support bubbles, while the “rule of six” applied outdoors.

Everyone who could work from home was told to do so, but key workers – which included politicians – were still permitted to travel into the office and gather indoors for work purposes, so long as social distancing was observed.

Some Tory MPs reacted with fury, believing Johnson had engineered the new claims emerging about Jenkin to derail the privileges committee investigation. One said: “Boris will desperately be opening his little black book and desperately trying to cast aspersions elsewhere. He would burn parliament to the ground around him.” Another added: “We’re not far off him asking Andrew Bridgen for his tinfoil hat supplier.”

Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, is understood to have written to the clerk of the privileges committee about the alleged event, calling for its chair, Harriet Harman, to look into the claims.