Boris Johnson insisted the idea of an early election “hasn’t occurred to me” but refused to rule out calling a snap poll, PA Media reports.
Speaking to reporters accompanying him on his trip to the Nato summit, Johnson said he would not “start talking about politics” at a time when he was dealing with cost-of-living pressures and the war in Ukraine. PA says he repeatedly failed to rule out the prospect of going to the country before the next scheduled election in 2024.
Referring to his former career as a journalist, Johnson told the reporters:
Do you know what, I’ve realised where I’ve been going wrong with all this.
I’ve got to recognise that years and years ago, I used to do the kind of jobs that you all do now, and it was a great, great life and a great privilege.
What you are able to do is offer opinion, commentary, analysis, predictions about politics, about individuals and so on.
I think I’ve got to recognise I’m no longer a member of that sacred guild.
It would be a demarcation dispute for me to cross over and start talking about politics.
I’ve got to talk about my programme for government, about policy, and what I’m doing to take the country forward.
Asked whether he was ruling out an early election he said:
I’m just saying, I don’t comment on those sorts of things. The idea hadn’t occurred to me, if you really want the truth, because I’m focused on getting through the cost-of-living pressures, developing and improving, widening, our plan for a stronger economy, and making sure that we continue to offer leadership on some of the tough global issues the world faces.
Asked if he was leaning towards a snap election he said:
I am not offering commentary, what I’m trying to get over to you is that I’m here to comment on policy, on the agenda of government.
(The journalists weren’t asking him for commentary. They were just asking him a straightforward question.)
Chris Bryant, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons standards committee, and who was chair of the privileges committee too until he resigned because he felt his public comments about Boris Johnson would cast doubt on his ability to chair a fair inquiry into the PM, has rubbished the claims highlighted by the Daily Telegraph. (See 9.35am.)
And Gavin Barwell, the Tory peer who was chief of staff to Theresa May when she was PM, says that if Johnson does not like the format of the privileges committee inquiry, other types of inquiry are available.
Good morning. Boris Johnson will be holding a press conference later at the end of the Nato conference and although he has been preoccupied in recent days with a war in Europe and the threat posed by Russia to UK security – this morning he has announced £1bn in extra military aid for Ukraine – there is no escaping Partygate. Yesterday the Commons privileges committee held its first meeting to plan its inquiry into claims that Johnson lied to MPs and – in what could be a highly significant move – it decided to effectively invite No 10 staff to give evidence anonymously.
If, as reports suggest, some junior Downing Street officials are aggrieved about the way they were treated during Partygate, and if they can provide evidence that Johnson knew much more about parties taking place or rules being broken than he told the Commons, then this whistleblower provision could prove fatal to the prime minister.
The prospect has certainly alarmed Johnson’s allies. In their splash for the Daily Telegraph, Christopher Hope and Tony Diver say Johnson’s allies fear he is being stitched up and that the committee will a “kangaroo court”. They report:
Allies of the prime minister accused the House of Commons’ privileges committee of relying on “hearsay evidence”, after MPs ruled that witnesses will be granted anonymity …
By questioning the integrity of the investigation, it is likely that Downing Street is preparing to challenge any negative findings made by the committee. It also raises the prospect that the prime minister would refuse to resign if he is found to have misled parliament …
Even though a report by Sue Gray, the senior civil servant, on Downing Street parties kept identities of witnesses secret, one No 10 source said it would be difficult for Mr Johnson to challenge anonymous evidence which effectively could be hearsay.
The insider said: “How can a ‘defendant’ question/cross-examine anonymous evidence?”
An MP friend of Mr Johnson added: “It is bonkers. Going on hearsay evidence of it is not in the spirit of it. How can you interrogate someone who has not turned up? If you don’t trust the process, how can you trust the result? It is a disservice to the House of Commons.”
The Telegraph’s sources do not seem to understand the difference between hearsay evidence and anonymised evidence. Hearsay evidence is second hand evidence (“I did not hear the PM say ‘How was the party in the press office last night?’ at the meeting hours before telling MPs there were no parties, but I’ve heard from a friend he did say that.”) Anonymised evidence is just normal evidence, but where the identity of the person providing it is not widely disclosed. Yesterday the committee said it would accept anonymised evidence, but only subject “to the chair [Harriet Harman] being able to identify the individual’s identity in conjunction with committee staff, as well as the relevance and probity of their evidence”.
Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, was giving interviews this morning and on the Today programme she was asked if she backed the Telegraph’s campaign for justice for the Downing Street One. She knocked the question away, and would not endorse the “kangaroo court” objections published by the paper. Asked if she was satisfied the committee would give Johnson a fair hearing, she replied:
I trust the privileges committee to look at the evidence properly and make the make the judgement appropriately and we need to allow that process to continue.
Asked again if Johnson would get a fair hearing, she replied:
I trust implicitly my parliamentary colleagues to listen properly to the evidence and make the right decision.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.20am: Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, speaks at a British Chambers of Commerce conference.
10.50am: Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s Brexit negotiator and European Commissioner vice president, speaks at the EU/UK forum conference.
11.45am (UK time): Boris Johnson is due to hold a press conference at the end of the Nato summit.
12pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, takes questions in the Scottish parliament.
4.15pm: Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister, speaks at the end of a day-long conference on the future of Britain organised by his thinktank.
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