Jenkins lockdown drinks fan flames of Boris kangaroo court claims

Watch Live: Boris Johnson faces Privileges Committee

Since Boris Johnson pulled the proverbial hand grenade pin in an attempt to blow up the Conservative Party with his resignation from Parliament last Friday, it’s been hard for the political establishment to focus on little else.

Not that there has been an awful lot of competition with yet another subject debate in the Commons today, this time led by the SNP, which again reduced Parliament to a 48-hour distraction this week for most MPs who took an early train home.

But just as the Privileges Committee finally seems to have worked out how and when it is going to publish its report into Boris Johnson allegedly deliberately lying to Parliament, the issue exploded again.

Just when you though we had topped out on intrigue, the allegations around Tory grandee (and Brexiteer) Sir Bernard Jenkin have now fed into a narrative the former Prime Minister was set up by a “kangaroo court.”

It has been claimed that Sir Bernard attended a lockdown-breaking party for the 65th birthday of his wife, Baroness Anne Jenkin,  during the pandemic organised by Deputy speaker Eleanor Laing.

A former senior minister and Boris Johnson ally had no doubt about the significance of the Jenkin story.

It comes as the Privileges Committee appeared to confirm it intends to pursue MPs who repeated the “kangaroo court” allegation uttered by the now former MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

The former minister said: “Well this puts Rishi [Sunak] into a bit of a bind.

“He will now have to withdraw the whip from Bernard and force him to resign as well.

“If Boris and others are guilty of contempt of Parliament, so is Bernard. He has not declared an interest which he should have done if he broke lockdown rules and he has not been honest about his own activities.”

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The Johnson ally continued: “This whole saga proves that there was collusion between the committee and Downing Street to get Boris.”

It has also been claimed that of all the MPs on the committee it was Sir Bernard who was pushing for the harshest sanctions.

“Utter hypocrite!” blasted another MP.

Such has been the speculation and fervour around this subject that all sorts of claims and counter claims have been exchanged on various Tory Whatsapp groups regarding the committee.

Sir Bernard had been a key part of the inquiry as he was a founder of Vote Leave and tried to recruit Boris Johnson as its figurehead in 2016.

A longstanding Tory MP and Johnson ally claimed “Bernard Jenkin is just bitter because he was never given ministerial preferment.”

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There are other accusations flying around.

It has been claimed by some Conservative MPs that their party colleagues on the committee had agreed to suspend Johnson for five days.

Crucially, this is under the threshold of 10 days which allows a by-election to be triggered.

But the accusation is that the Labour chair Harriet Harman “gamed” the Tory members by refusing to publish the report while the majority only wanted five days.

It is then claimed that when civil servants in the Cabinet Committee kicked off about Whatsapp messages from the former Prime Minister then a third strand of the investigation was opened.

At that point Conservative MPs on the committee, it is claimed, agreed to the going beyond 10 days and then Ms Harman agreed to publication even though, it is alleged, that Mr Johnson did not have a proper chance to reply.

The Commons authorities have been dismissive of the claims.

A spokesman said: “Every single assertion here is untrue.”

The discussion though is illustrative of the frenetic nature of speculation over what is happening.

Neither is Sir Bernard the only target of gossip on the committee.

It has been claimed that Andy Carter, the MP for Warrington South, had been promised a much safer newly created seat of Chester South and Eddisbury as part of the pressure supposedly put on him to come to the right decision about Mr Johnson.

An amiable and decent character, this seems to be one of the wilder bits of speculation but many of his colleagues are now looking at where he stands at the next election.

Mr Carter, who has been under immense pressure from all sides in this process, told “If they were trying to sort a safe seat for me, I wish they would tell me.”

It feels with the report finally expected tomorrow the speculation will not end.

Nor will it finish Boris Johnson – those who think he is guilty always did and those who think he is a victim of witch hunt always have.

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