Boris Johnson Partygate probe faces major obstacle proving culpability

Boris Johnson discusses partygate and Brexit three years on

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The inquiry into whether Boris Johnson knowingly misled MPs about the Partygate saga is facing a huge obstacle as whistleblowers have been told they will not be anonymous. The former prime minister is being investigated by the Commons Privileges Committee for allegedly lying to Parliament over lockdown-busting parties in and around Downing Street during the Covid pandemic.

But some witnesses have reportedly been put off speaking out as they have been told they will be named alongside their evidence when it is presented to Mr Johnson unless there are exceptional circumstances.

One told the Telegraph: “It is like telling the mafia.”

Harriet Harman, the Labour chairman of the committee, has been speaking to whistle-blowers considering giving testimony.

But the probe, which was ordered last April, has been beset by delays.

Hearings are expected to start in March at the earliest and the report may not be ready until the summer.

It comes after Mr Johnson last week insisted anyone who suspects he deliberately covered up lockdown parties in No 10 is “out of their mind”.

The former PM, who was forced out of Downing Street last September following a series of scandals, said the claim was “strictly for the birds”.

In an interview with Tory MP and close ally Nadine Dorries on Talk TV, Mr Johnson said he thought the mid-pandemic gatherings were “within the rules”.

He insisted he had to be “respectful” to the cross-party committee that is undertaking the Partygate inquiry.

He added: “But I’ll just repeat what I’ve said before, and I hope it’s obvious to everybody, that anybody who thinks I was knowingly going to parties that were breaking lockdown rules in No 10, or then knowingly covering up parties that were illicit that other people were going to, that’s all strictly for the birds.

“And if anybody thinks like that, they’re out of their mind.”

Mr Johnson said Downing Street was “thinking desperately” about Covid testing and the vaccine rollout at the time.

He added: “We all thought what we were doing – or certainly, I thought what we were doing – was within the rules.

“And what we certainly thought was that we were working blindingly hard on some massive priorities for the country.”

The ex-PM is expected to give evidence to the inquiry in the coming months.

He repeatedly told the Commons there were no rule-breaking parties in Downing Street, and that the rules had been followed at all times.

But the Metropolitan Police issued 126 fines for breaches of Covid rules, including to Mr Johnson himself, for offences spanning a series of gatherings in 2020 and 2021.

If the committee rules Mr Johnson did lie to Parliament and a suspension of more than 10 sitting days is approved by the House of Commons, he could face a challenging by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat.

A spokesman for the commitee said: “The committee is currently analysing written evidence submitted to the inquiry by the Government in November, in addition to further written evidence received from witnesses by the deadline of February 7.

“The committee is continuing to meet regularly to progress the inquiry expeditiously.”

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