Lord Pannick’s criticism of inquiry into whether Johnson misled MPs over Partygate ‘absurd’, says senior Tory
Sir Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative MP who sits on the Commons privileges committee, has dismissed as “absurd” one of the arguments used by the distinguished barrister Lord Pannick to suggest the committee’s inquiry into whether Boris Johnson misled parliament over Partygate is flawed.
In a highly unusual move, the government last week published Pannick’s legal opinion saying the inquiry was “fundamentally flawed in a number of important respects”. Pannick’s 22-page opinion was welcomed by Johnson allies who are backing the Daily Mail campaign for the inquiry to be halted.
One of Pannick’s arguments was that the committee was mistaken in taking the view that a minister could be in contempt of parliament if they misled MPs even if they did so inadvertently. Such a wide definition of contempt could make ministers nervous about trying to answer questions in the Commons, he argued.
Jenkin told Radio 4’s World at One that the committee would respond to Pannick in due course. But he went on:
Ask yourself; do you think it is possible that a committee could recommend a sanction against a member for inadvertently misleading the house? Do you think the House of Commons would vote for that? I’m amazed I need to say this. It is totally absurd.
And the idea that we’ve moved the goalposts, or changed anything – will change anything. There is no evidence of that.
The Pannick opinion accepts that in the past Jenkin has said a minister would be in contempt of parliament only if they deliberately misled MPs. But Pannick said Jenkin’s view was not reflected in the document published by the committee earlier this summer setting out the approach it would take.
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