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Commons privileges committee says Johnson could face recall election if Partygate inquiry were to lead to 10-day suspension

The first report from the Commons privilege committee relating to its inquiry into whether Boris Johnson lied to MPs about Partygate is out – and some of its contents will be worrying for Downing Street.

The committee, which is chaired by the Labour MP Harriet Harman, has not even started the main work on its investigation, but it has published a 39-page report setting out how it will proceed. This shows that the MPs are being exceptionally thorough – which is not surprising because an inquiry of this kind is unprecedented in modern times.

Here are the main points.

  • The committee will seek to take evidence from Johnson and others in public in the autumn. Previously it had said there would be oral hearings, but it had not confirmed that these would be in public.
  • Johnson and other witnesses giving oral evidence will have to give evidence on oath.
  • Johnson could face a recall petition, which could lead to a byelection in his constituency, if the committee were to recommend a lengthy suspension from parliament as a punishment. If an MP gets suspended from the Commons for 10 sitting days or more following a recommendation from the standards committee, the provisions of the Recall of MPs Act can apply. There was some doubt as to whether the same rule would apply if the privileges committee recommended a 10-day suspension, but the committee says legal advice says it does. It says:

Among the documents published today is a formal determination from Commons Speaker Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, following independent legal advice, regarding the interpretation of the Recall of MPs Act 2015 in the hypothetical event that the privileges committee were to recommend the sanction of suspension.

The Speaker has ruled that the committee of privileges is a committee concerned with the standards of conduct of individual MPs, and therefore any suspension of the requisite length (ten sitting days or fourteen calendar days) following on from a report from that committee will attract the provisions of the Recall of MPs Act.

  • The committee says that, even if Johnson did not intentionally lie to MPs about Partygate, he could still be found to have committed a contempt of parliament. It says:

The report also includes a paper from the clerk of the journals, discussing the definition of a contempt in the context of the committee’s inquiry. The committee agrees with the clerk of the journals that the focus of the house’s jurisdiction is on whether or not an action or omission obstructs or impedes or has a tendency to obstruct or impede the functioning of the house, with the consequence that, looking at contempt in broad terms, intention is not necessary for a contempt to be committed. The clerk’s memo explains that while “much of the commentary has focussed on whether Mr Johnson “deliberately” or “knowingly” misled the Committee”, “this wording is not in the motion”.

In her paper, the clerk of the journals adds: “It is for the committee and the house to determine whether a contempt has occurred and the intention of the contemnor is not relevant to making that decision. Intent has been considered relevant when a committee has been considering whether or not there should be penalties for a contempt, or the severity of those penalties”; her paper gives examples of previous cases in which committees have considered intent in the course of assessing the seriousness of the behaviour concerned.

This ruling is bad for Johnson because he has already admitted that some of the comments he made to MPs about Partygate were misleading. The committee is now saying that that could have been a contempt of parliament, even if there was no intention to deceive.

But the committee is only likely to recommend a serious punishment, such as suspension from the Commons, if it concludes the contempt was intentional.

  • The committee says it will apply the “balance of probabilties” standard of proof when deciding whether or not Johnson lied to MPs.
  • It confirms that procedures will be in place to allow whistleblowers to give evidence to the committee without their identity being revealed.

Truss claims ‘economic orthodoxy’ followed by governnments over past 20 years has failed to deliver proper growth

Good morning. Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, is now favourite in the contest to be next Tory leader and prime minister and she has just given her first proper broadcast interview of the campaign, to Nick Robinson on the Today programme.

The main division between Truss and Rishi Sunak, the former chancellor and the only other candidate left in the Tory leadership contest, is that Truss is demanding huge, immediate tax cuts now. She says they are needed to jumpstart the economy and avoid recession. Sunak says tax cuts now would be inflationary, and that they should only be implemented when affordable.

What was interesting about Truss’s interview is that she doubled down on her argument, claiming that her approach was needed because the economic orthodoxy accepted by governments of both parties over the past 20 years was wrong. She told Robinson:

The fact is we’ve had economic policy – not just under this government, for the past two decades – there’s been a consensus on our economic policy, and it hasn’t delivered economic growth ….

We have had a consensus of the Treasury, of economists, of the Financial Times, of other outlets, peddling a particular type of economic policy for the last 20 years. And it hasn’t delivered growth …

What I know about the Treasury from having worked there is they do have an economic orthodoxy and they do resist change. And what people in Britain desperately need now is change.

Truss accepted that her plans for tax cuts would cost roughly £38bn a year. But she said they were affordable within the government’s current fiscal rules and, when Robinson challenged her to name a single economist who did not think tax cuts now would be inflationary, she cited one, Patrick Minford. She said she agreed with Minford’s argument, which is that tax cuts would be good for the supply side of the economy (people would have more incentive to work, or set up a business), and that this would reduce inflation.

In her attack on Treasury thinking, Truss was reflecting what Boris Johnson told MPs yesterday as he ended PMQs with advice for his successor.

But she also seems to be following another economic thinker less popular in Tory circles. Robinson put it to her that, if she favoured a big increase in borrowing to revive the economy, she should have voted for Jeremy Corbyn. Truss did not address his point directly, but last night John McDonnell, Corbyn’s shadow chancellor, suggested he agreed with the analysis. He told ITV’s Peston show:

I was then told this idea of borrowing to grow the economy then let it pay for itself is ludicrous … What have we just heard [from the Tory leadership contest is] let’s borrow to grow the economy.

It’s extraordinary they’re repeating my agenda but at the same time, doing it in a way which, to be frank, I think is completely unrelated to the real world we’re living in which is the immediate crisis of the cost of living and climate change.

There was a lot more in Truss’s Today interview. I will post a full summary shortly.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The Office for National Statistics publishes the latest crime figures for England and Wales.

Morning: Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak hold a private hustings with Conservative councillors from the Local Government Association.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

Afternoon: Truss is expected to hold a campaign event outside London.

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Tory leadership race live: Liz Truss blames Treasury’s ‘economic orthodoxy’ for UK’s stunted growth

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