JASON GROVES: This magnificently pompous committee has overreached itself by going after those who dared to criticise its work – on the flimsiest of pretexts
Even by the standards of Parliament, yesterday’s report from the Commons privileges committee is staggering in its self-importance.
Not content with seeing the back of Boris Johnson, the committee has gone after those who dared to criticise its work and question its members.
In a magnificently pompous conclusion, they declare that their own work is ‘crucial to our democracy and must itself be protected’.
But the idea that these paragons are beyond reproach leaves even some of their supporters uneasy.
Sir Chris Bryant, a former chairman of the privileges committee and no friend of Mr Johnson, said it was a ‘moot point’ whether MPs who criticised the committee had done anything wrong.
One of the main criticisms of the inquiry was that its chairman, Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman, had publicly condemned Boris Johnson in advance
Not content with seeing the back of Mr Johnson, the committee has gone after those who dared to criticise its work and question its members
Sir Chris Bryant, a former chairman of the privileges committee and no friend of Mr Johnson, said it was a ‘moot point’ whether MPs who criticised the committee had done anything wrong
‘Where does freedom of speech end and contempt begin?’ he asked. And the notion that their work is beyond criticism is undermined by the rickety nature of the report.
None of the MPs and peers criticised was contacted in advance to provide any context or defence.
Mark Jenkinson said his criticism of a ‘witch-hunt’ against Mr Johnson was aimed at the media, not the committee.
They have literally just performed a Twitter search for terms they don’t like and pasted them in a table,’ he added.
And the committee produces little evidence to support its central claim that the criticism was a ‘co-ordinated’ attempt to intimidate.
One of the main criticisms of the inquiry was that its chairman, Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman, had publicly condemned Mr Johnson in advance.
In a tweet in April last year, Miss Harman said that Mr Johnson’s failure to challenge a fixed penalty notice for attending a ‘birthday party’ in No 10 was tantamount to admitting he had ‘misled the Commons’ – the very subject the committee was investigating.
Ms Harman has said she had been so concerned about the ‘perception of fairness’ that she privately offered to step down.
Yet the committee hammers those MPs who highlighted the same perception of fairness and asked whether the public statements made by her and others suggested they might be biased against Mr Johnson.
All this is before we even get to the silence of Tory grandee Sir Bernard Jenkin, who signed off the report despite facing calls to quit over allegations he attended a lockdown party himself. It seems Sir Bernard has plenty to say about the conduct of others, but nothing to say about his own.
A friend of Mr Johnson described yesterday’s report as ‘deranged’ and sinister, adding: ‘They are themselves trying to intimidate people.’ MPs on the committee have a tough job. Some are said to have needed extra security as a result of their high-profile report on Mr Johnson. No-one would defend the threats that led to that, and it is not hard to see why some members feel bruised.
Yet in seeking to stifle free speech and place themselves above all criticism they have over-reached.
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