A DAMNING report from the Commons Privileges Committee claims it would have been "obvious" to Boris Johnson that Covid rules were being breached during Downing Street gatherings he attended.

The cross-party group, probing whether or not the ousted prime minister misled MPs and is in contempt of parliament, published a series of messages between No 10 officials which they said made clear staff were "themselves struggling to contend that some gatherings were within the rules."

Mr Johnson is set to give evidence to the inquiry in the week beginning 20 March.

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In their interim report, which also contained never before seen pictures, the committee say Mr Johnson may have misled the Commons in four ways. 

They include at PMQs in December 2021, Labour when MP Catherine West asked the then PM if there was a party in No.10 on November 13 2020. 

Mr Johnson replied: "No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times." 

The Herald:

However, there was a party on November 13, 2020, to mark the departure of former No.10 communications chief Lee Cain. Pictures show Mr Johnson holding a glass of fizz and making a toast, in front of a table with several bottles of alcohol. 

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The committee also says MPs "may have been misled when Mr Johnson failed to tell the House about his own knowledge of the gatherings where the rules or guidance had been broken. That is because there is evidence that he attended them."

The committee also says they have evidence "that there was no assurance about any gathering’s compliance with the guidance that was in place at the time."

They also say the Tory could have misled the Commons when he "gave the impression that there needed to be an investigation by the Second Permanent Secretary to establish whether the rules and guidance had been broken before he could answer questions to the House."

They claim while "repeatedly making that statement to the House he appears to have had personal knowledge that he did not reveal."

The committee - made up of four Conservative, two Labour and one SNP MPs - published the report on Friday detailing the "range of matters" they would like to discuss with Mr Johnson. 

They said: "The evidence strongly suggests that breaches of guidance would have been obvious to Mr Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings.

"There is 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 Herald:

One WhatsApp from the Director of Communications sent on 25 January 2022 to another No. 10 official in relation to the gathering of 19 June 2020 which saw both Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak fined, stated: “Haven’t heard any explanation of how it’s in the rules”.

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In a separate WhatsApp exchange with a No. 10 official of 25 January 2022 in relation to the gathering of 19 June 2020, the Director of Communications stated: “I’m struggling to come up with a way this one is in the rules in my head”, and in response to a suggestion that they describe the event as “reasonably necessary for work purposes”, “not sure that one works does it. Also blows another great gaping hole in the PM’s account doesn’t it?”

Mr Johnson claimed the interim report showed he was being "vindicated."

"It is clear from this report that I have not committed any contempt of parliament.

"That is because there is no evidence in the report that I knowingly or recklessly misled parliament, or that I failed to update parliament in a timely manner.

"Nor is there any evidence in the report that I was aware that any events taking place in No 10 or the Cabinet Office were in breach of the rules or the guidance.

"Like any prime minister, I relied upon advice from officials. There is no evidence that I was at any stage advised by anyone, whether a civil servant or a political adviser, that an event would be against the rules or the guidance before it went ahead.

"There is no evidence that I was later advised that any such event was contrary to requirements.

"So, when I told the house that the rules and the guidance had been followed, that was my honest belief."

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He also criticised the committeee for relying on evidence provided by Sue Gray in her Partygate report.

The civil servant was yesterday unveiled as Sir Keir Starmer's new Chief of Staff, prompting a furious political row.

Mr Johnson said: "I note that the committee has emphasised their wish to be fair. They have made reference on new fewer than 26 occasions to a personage they bashfully describe as 'the second permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office.'

"That is of course, Sue Gray.

"So it is surreal to discover that the Committee proposes to rely on evidence culled and orchestrated by Sue Gray, who has just been appointed chief of staff to the leader of the Labour party.

"This is particularly concerning given that the committee says it is proposing to rely on ‘the findings in the second permanent secretary’s report’ as ‘relevant facts which the committee will take into account.’

"I leave it to others to decide how much confidence may now be placed in her inquiry and in the reports that she produced."

The committee rejected Mr Johnson's claims, saying the report was "based on evidence" including "material supplied by the government to the committee in November, including communications such as WhatsApps, emails and photographs from the official Downing Street photographer" and "evidence from witnesses who were present either at the time of the gatherings or at the time of preparation for Boris Johnson’s statements to parliament."

"Sue Gray was present at neither and is not one of those witnesses," they added.

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said the evidence of a crime and a cover-up in the committee's report was "absolutely damning."

"All the while, Rishi Sunak sat on his hands, living and working next door but doing nothing to end the rule breaking.

"While families up and down the country dutifully followed the rules unable to visit loved ones, missing weddings and funerals, Boris Johnson was repeatedly holding drinks and social events at the heart of government – events attended by the current prime minister.

"If Rishi Sunak is to meet his promise of integrity and accountability, he must stop propping up his disgraced prime minister and his legal defence fund, fully endorse the committee’s recommendations and make clear that if Boris Johnson is found to have repeatedly misled parliament his career is over."