Boris Johnson can ‘wriggle out’ of resignation even if MPs misled over No 10 party, experts say

Boris Johnson has ways to “wriggle” out of the ‘partygate’ crisis even if the inquiry suggests the Commons was misled over the No 10 party, constitutional experts say.

The prime minister’s chances of clinging on to power have slipped with Dominic Cummings’ explosive claim of evidence that he “lied to parliament” – an offence meant to trigger a minister’s resignation.

But academics in constitutional law have told The Independent of possible escape routes for Mr Johnson, as he waits the verdict of Sue Gray, the civil servant probing the controversy.

One said the wording of the ministerial code that only ministers who “knowingly mislead parliament” should quit offered him hope – after he insisted he was not told about the “bring your own booze” party.

A second doubted whether the defence could be convincing – after voters dismissed the prime minister’s apology as bogus – but said there was still little prospect that parliament could force him out.

Both agreed the controversy is probably heading for a second inquiry, by Mr Johnson’s ethics adviser, prolonging the agony for Conservative MPs – unless they act to topple him.

“He certainly has a way of trying to wriggle out of the situation, using the terminology of the ministerial code,” said Michael Gordon, professor constitutional law at the University of Liverpool.

“It is definitely right to say that the ministerial code, in talking about knowingly misleading, offers him a way out without resigning – even if it is a politically controversial one.”

Dr Craig Prescott, who lectures in constitutional law at Bangor University and formerly at King’s College London, said the defence of not knowing the party broke the law might not be “as helpful to the prime minister as he might think”.

“If he didn’t furnish himself with the full facts in advance, then it could be argued that he has failed to fulfil his duty,” he argued.

“But there is no mechanism for him to resign beyond sheer political pressure. Ultimately, whatever is in Sue Gray’s report, the primary audience is Conservative MPs and the cabinet.”

Mr Cummings lit a fuse under his former boss when he claimed an email sent by “a very senior official” warned the event on 20 May 2020 broke Covid rules and that Mr Johnson himself was alerted.

If confirmed, it would blow apart the prime minister’s defence that he thought it was “a work event”, which was repeated in a TV interview on Tuesday.

The offence of misleading parliament is recognised in Commons resolutions from the 1990s – to be resolved through a no-confidence vote – but Tory MPs would view it as “neater” to decide Mr Johnson’s fate themselves, Prof Gordon said.

He also suggested that, given it is not within Ms Gray’s remit to judge whether the code was broken, a further probe by Christopher Geidt, the prime minister’s ethic adviser, is likely.

That threatened a “repeat” of Lord Geidt’s inquiry into the ‘flatgate’ scandal which – despite the adviser’s anger at information being kept from him – saw him stop short of concluding he had been deliberately misled.


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