‘I do believe he’s innocent’: Senior cabinet minister defends Boris after MPs say Covid rule breaches were 'obvious'

5 March 2023, 12:18 | Updated: 5 March 2023, 13:51

Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris defends Boris Johnson
Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris defends Boris Johnson. Picture: Parliament/LBC
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A senior cabinet has defended Boris Johnson after a group of top MPs found Covid rule breaches during 'partygate' gatherings would have been "obvious".

A report by the Privileges Committee said that Mr Johnson may have misled the House by failing to tell the Commons about his own knowledge of 'Partygate' gatherings where the rules or guidance had been broken.

It said MPs may also have been misled by Mr Johnson's assertion that he relied upon repeated assurances that the rules had not been broken.

But Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has defended his former boss Mr Johnson, telling LBC he believes he his innocent.

Speaking to LBC's Andrew Castle on Sunday, Mr Heaton-Harris said: "[Boris] wants to make sure he comes through privileges, as he should do, properly unscathed.

"Because I do believe he’s innocent and I do believe that will be the case."

Boris Johnson insists he never misled Parliament
Boris Johnson insists he never misled Parliament. Picture: Parliament

Read More: Boris 'a piece of work' says ex-EU chief who negotiated Brexit as Johnson mounts opposition to Sunak's deal

Read More: Boris Johnson could face by-election after top MPs say Covid rule breaches would have been 'obvious' to former PM

The NI Secretary continued: "I became Boris’ chief whip about two or three months into this whole thing. I asked him questions myself - I would not have taken that job had I not believe the answers I was given."

"I believe he never knowingly misled parliament," he added.

Mr Johnson could be suspended from the House of Commons for a month and face a by-election after the Privileges Committee's findings.

Senior parliamentary sources consider the report to be damning enough for Mr Johnson to face suspension from the Commons for more than a month, meaning he may face a by-election, The Times reports.

Boris Johnson attends gathering during lockdown
Boris Johnson attends gathering during lockdown. Picture: Parliament

Mr Johnson has said he believes Partygate events were "within the rules" - despite committee saying evidence suggested Covid rule breaches would have been "obvious" to him at the time.

The report, published by the Privileges Committee, also said there was evidence "that those who were advising Mr Johnson about what to say to the press and in the House were themselves struggling to contend that some gatherings were within the rules".

The Director of Communications in Number 10 at the time said: "I'm struggling to come up with a way this one is in the rules in my head," the report stated.

Speaking after the committee of MPs' initial 24-page report Mr Johnson said: "I believed what we were doing was within the conformity of the COVID regulations."

He added: "I believe implicitly that these events were within the rules."

He went on: "There's been no contempt here."The former prime minister will give evidence to the Privileges Committee in the week beginning March 20, though Mr Johnson has already said he feels "vindicated".

The committee has confirmed that the report is only one aspect of their investigation and said final conclusions will be set out "only when we have heard oral evidence from Mr Johnson."

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