Privileges Committee Report is a confused word salad of conjecture and contradiction, says parliamentary pundit

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By ShepherdWales.

After reading the full 110 pages my overriding conclusion is that the Privileges Committee Report into whether Boris Johnson intentionally misled Parliament is a confused word salad of conjecture, contradiction and is rather misleading in and of itself.

It is a struggle to even know where to begin, frankly there is so much one could pick apart.  

I concede that if the MPs haven’t followed this saga as closely as I have then they may not pick up on the subtleties that have been used to move the recommendation from unintentionally misleading to knowingly and recklessly misleading.

I will focus on a handful of the main glaring issues and encourage you to read the report in full to make your own mind up.  If you are an MP voting on this tomorrow and you haven’t read the report in full then I would encourage you to do so alongside the Sue Gray report.

I have previously written two articles that I would encourage you to also read in advance of this final one:

The two articles walk you through the timeline of events, both of the Sue Gray reports and the previous Privilege Committee reports, transcripts and compares them for accuracy.

The basic conclusion of the Privilege Committee investigation is that they find Boris Johnson intentionally misled the house and, in so doing, is found in contempt of the house.  Their initial ‘warning’ to Boris Johnson was that they were going to recommend a sanction of suspension that would be long enough to cause a recall petition in his constituency.  Events then moved very quickly and the committee increased their recommendations up to 90 days and a removal of his parliamentary pass.

They are correct in their finding that Boris Johnson misled the house.  Boris doesn’t dispute that he unintentionally misled the house and he corrected the record on the 25th May 2022 on the day that Sue Gray published her final report.  

It’s at this point that the subtleties begin.  

There are five main points of concern:

  1. They felt he should have corrected the record every time the media produced a new revelation after the investigation had been set up.  I am not sure Sue Gray or the Met would have appreciated him doing that. They claim he had a ‘closed mind’ to the truth and did ‘double down’ on his statement in PMQs on the 1st December.  I will demonstrate that this is not the case through Hansard evidence.
  2. They are finding events unlawful (not necessary for work) that the Metropolitan Police found were lawful (necessary for work) at the time of Boris Johnson’s attendance and ruling that Boris must have known they were unlawful when even the Met have concluded they weren’t at that time.
  3. They feel that he intentionally misled the house when he corrected the record 25th May 2022 because he stated RIGHTLY (according to the MetPolice) that the events at the time he attended them (aside from 19th June) were deemed within the rules
  4. They are taking statements / what’s app etc from civil servants after the fact where they are doubting the legality of the birthday for example and using them to say that those were their thoughts at the time and at the start of #partygate when Boris is accused of misleading.
  5. Lastly the referral motion specifically mentions that it is concerned with legality of events but the whole report seems focused on guidance. They ignore Dominic Cummings’ testimony that No10 was being used as an experiment for fast testing (LFTs) from the summer of 2020 – which when they came into use nationwide did replace much of the social distancing guidelines and explains why the guidance was being followed even if social distancing was not perfect.  The aim was to limit spread and ‘testing, testing, testing’ was the key part of that.  The fact the general public at large didn’t have access to it until summer 2021 meant his public assertions were obviously different to what needed to be done in places where fast testing was available.

The committee feel that he could have and should have corrected the record earlier than this as more and more potentially unlawful gatherings were being revealed by the media.  

I have always, and still do argue that officially correcting the record during an ongoing investigation and then during a police investigate would be prejudicial to those investigations especially when all you know is media reports and not the full facts.  What if you correct the record and find your correction is inaccurate?

The committee rejects this reasoning though and I can’t actually find a valid explanation for why, other than it ‘must have been obvious’.  Why would it have been obvious when he was being specifically asked about an event that he wasn’t at and no evidence has been produced to show that he did know about it?  They have based their assertion that he must have known by assuming that at precisely 9.58pm when walking to his flat he must have seen an illegal gathering.  How can they use such an assumption as definitive proof of anything?

Sue Gray also made a point of stating in her first report published 31st January 2022 that she wasn’t going to divulge the information that she held, so how was Boris Johnson supposed to honestly state what happened at events he wasn’t at or after he’d left, based on what he was hearing through grape vines within No 10, the Cabinet Office and the press?

Sue Gray Initial Report – 31st January 2022

It seems the committee wanted him to correct the record or seek more assurances during the week between PMQs on the 1st December and PMQs on the 8th December.  They feel that he didn’t do this but that he did ‘… double down on the answers he had given earlier’ and ‘Closed his mind to the truth.’

So let’s assess whether he did ‘double down’ and have a ‘closed mind’ to the truth as they allege.

During the week of the 1st – 7th December 2021 there were no new media revelations to discredit what he had been told by those at the 20th December 2020 Christmas party. 

The 13th November Lee Cain leaving event, at the time Boris attended it, he did not feel that the rules and guidance were broken and there is no actual evidence to say that he knew what had occurred after he left.  These were the two events in question in the house, during PMQs on the 8th December 2021.

On the evening of the 7th December 2021 the Allegra Stratton video surfaced in the media.  At this point The Prime Minister significantly changes tack demonstrating that his mind certainly isn’t closed to the possibility of wrong doing.

Let’s take a look at what he said on December 1st 2021 and his opening statement in the house on the 8th December 2021 and see how his stance changes.

PMQs December 1st 2021 – Hansard in response to a specific question about a specific event (20th December 2020) that he has consistently maintained that he didn’t know about.

PMQs December 8th 2021 – Opening statement less than 24 hrs post the video being released.

His opening statement to the house is telling the house that he has asked the: ‘Cabinet Secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible.  It goes without saying that if those rules were broken, there will be disciplinary action for all involved.’

Are those the words of someone with a ‘closed mind’ or someone trying to ‘ double down’?

Also worth noting at this point that the Privilege Committee go to some length to criticise the PM for not asking senior ‘career’ civil servants for assurances during that first week and specifically name Simon Case in the above extract and yet we see that one week into the revelations and Boris had asked Simon Case to start an investigation and to report back as soon as possible to the house.

The motion to refer Boris to the Committee specifically stated the questions asked of him on the two dates.  In my previous articles I have looked at these in length and encourage you to read them.

During PMQs on the 8th December Sir Keir Starmer used all of his questions to quiz the PM on these events.

Boris Johnson continues to explain that he has asked Simon Case to investigate and even goes as far as to accept that any wrong doing will be passed to the police. 

These are not the actions of someone with a closed mind as to the truth as the committee alleges.

PMQs December 8th 2021

The PC Report then moves onto what was said on the 12th January.  The new revelations for PMQs on the 12th January were concerning the 20th May 2020 Downing Street garden BYOB event.

One of the main threads of argument within the PC report is that Boris had a closed mind to the truth and didn’t correct the record fast enough.  However his response to the revelations about the 20th May 2020 revelations do not reveal a closed mind to the understanding that standards had fallen short.

PC Report Extract                                                                  Exact words: Hansard 12th January 2022

PC Report Extract                                                                  Exact words: Hansard 19th April 2022

They have even stated that setting up the Simon Case (that became Sue Gray) investigation in the first place was misleading the house because he could have corrected the record there and then. 

The reality is that he was being asked about events that he thought were within the rules and guidance or events that they didn’t know about at all.

This brings us to him correcting the record on the 25th May 2022 where he admits to unintentionally misleading the house.

The Privileges Committee allege that he intentionally misled the house here because they felt that the gatherings that he attended were not ‘necessary for work’, even though the police did not give him an FPN for them.

Acting Police Commissioner Stephen House when being interviewed by the London Assembly Explained that there was no evidence that Boris Johnson breached covid rules more than once and gave legitimate reasons (like different phases of the gathering) to explain why FPNs went to some and not others. As quoted in the Guardian:

They are literally overruling the actual enforcers of the law who did deem them ‘necessary for work’.  This leap into new territory of overruling the law enforcers makes one wonder what this committee would make of Sir Keir Starmer’s Durham event?

At this point I would like to remind you what the actual motion to refer Boris Johnson entailed:

The motion that the Committee was asked to investigate was specifically concerned with what was said in the house about the LEGALITY activities in 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office.

The Privilege Committee appear to move from unintentionally misleading the house – as Boris admits – to intentionally misleading and therefore contempt by determining that which the Metropolitan Police found to be lawful as unlawful. 

They also appear to interpret the guidance as law and to focus on social distancing as the main mitigation whilst ignoring that Dominic Cummings in his evidence (In the evidence bundle) states that No 10 was testing with LFTs from the summer of 2020.

One illustration of this overruling of the Metropolitan Police is demonstrated by looking at the Lee Cain leaving event 13th November 2021.

Extract from Privilege Committee Report                                Extract from Hansard-25th May 2022

It is interesting that the part of the quote that the committee chooses to omit in their report is the part where Boris says:

‘The house will note that my attendance at these moments, brief as it was, has not been found to be outside the rules.’

The irony of this whole affair is that the Privilege Committee in their determination to find Boris Johnson guilty of intentionally misleading the house is to contradict the very police whose job it is to determine when rules were broken.

I will be blunt. 

I have followed this whole sorry saga exceedingly closely and I find this final report of the Privileges Committee to be one of the most confusing, poorly structured, rambling, contradictory parliamentary reports that I have read. 

Their reasoning is positively bizarre at times. They have used witness statements questioning the legality of an event after the fact to state what someone was thinking at the time in the past. That’s just absurd.

I could go on and on with this report, questioning practically every paragraph. 

I have decided not to progress onto the latter part of their report for which they have zero mandate to comment on or increase the sanction on the basis of it from the motion given, except to say who leaked to the Times that Boris had been sent the warning statement?  The Committee or Boris? 

Even the least politically engaged member of society should question the ability of our elected individuals to fairly police themselves for someone to lose their job based on the evidence (or more accurately lack of it) contained within this report when the accused has had no ability to cross examine the witnesses, be represented verbally by legal counsel and has no real means of appeal to clear his name.

Do the right thing MPs.  Vote this shambles down, an abstention is a vote for the motion,  and let the nation and Parliament move on. 

Let Parliament recover some perspective, and get back to acting in a dignified manner upholding due process and being seen to be lawful, fair and just or next time it could be you before the Privileges Committee.


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2 COMMENTS

  1. “Do the right thing MPs. Vote this shambles down … ”

    225 Conservative and Unionist Members of the House of Commons could not be bothered to turn up and vote on the motion.

    Only 7 voted against. 118 (including Steve Baker) quisling traitors voted for it.

    That really shows how spineless the majority of these MPs are and their unsuitability as representatives of the people.

  2. I wish to make a complaint.

    I have just read the Privileges Committee report on Boris Johnson.
    Throughout the whole transcript, the word ‘guidance’ is used constantly in connection with allegations.

    I’d like to draw your attention to the following:-

    “The rule of law requires a clear distinction to be made between non-statutory guidance and requirements imposed by law. Whereas non-statutory guidance may influence, the law requires compliance. Law-enforcement officials and other public authorities have neither the duty nor the right to apply or enforce guidance as if it were the law.”
    https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt5802/jtselect/jtstatin/57/5707.htm

    It would appear from the link above that this issue was one of deep concern, as the link is titled “Blurring the Distinction between Law and Guidance”. This paper and inquiry was enacted well before the Privileges Committee Inquiry which went ahead without this issue being resolved.

    The Inquiry itself was conducted like a court of law. Boris Johnson had to make his intention clear at the start of it by declaring he would speak the truth and nothing but the truth.
    Throughout the Inquiry, the word ‘guidance’ is used as if it were a law with a possible punitive outcome which was actioned.

    As this was a parliamentary inquiry, I presume that they should have followed the parliamentary paper. To that effect, all and any reference to ‘guidance’ in any of their questioning should be removed.

    They are either a court of law or they aren’t. Which one is it?

    I believe that this Inquiry was not legal nor based itself on any legitimacy because it uses ‘guidance’ as its own law. This Inquiry should be appealed against. As voters, we cannot be expected to support what appears to be a deep schism in our parliamentary system. I would have thought that was of enough concern that this should be pursued fully.

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