Archie Mitchell, The Independent
Boris Johnson’s political future looks increasingly in doubt after fresh claims emerged about visitors to Chequers while Covid restrictions were in place. BBC chair Richard Sharp, Johnson’s cousin Sam Blyth, and Tory peer David Brownlow are reportedly among those named in diary entries referred to the police by the Cabinet Office last week. A visit to Chequers in May 2021 by two friends of Carrie Johnson, which is thought to have resulted in an overnight stay, has also been flagged, The Sunday Times claimed. It comes as a government source hit back at accusations made by the Johnson camp of a “political stitch-up” over the diaries, insisting that Tory MPs have “had their fill” of the former prime minister. His allies’ latest attacks on the government are “all rather tedious”, the source added. The revelations have prompted a Westminster guessing game about who may have visited Johnson at the grace-and-favour Buckinghamshire mansion between June 2020 and May 2021 — the period being looked at by police. Friends of the former prime minister include the journalist Alex Wickham, former adviser Henry Newman, and long-time spokesperson Ross Kempsell, who is believed to be Johnson’s tennis partner and is also said to be in line for a peerage in the former prime minister’s resignation honours list. If true, the latest claims could be especially damaging for Mr Johnson, given that Sharp was forced to stand down from the BBC after being found to have breached the rules on public appointments. Lord Brownlow has also made headlines in the past for his role in paying for the refurbishment of Boris and Carrie Johnson’s flat. A spokesperson for Johnson denied the allegations to The Sunday Times, adding that all the events referred to were “entirely lawful, based on advice from lawyers”.
A source close to Sharp said that a dinner he attended was held outdoors during phase 2 restrictions and was therefore not in breach of the rules, and that Sharp considered it a business meeting as he discussed the licence fee with Johnson. The Cabinet Office passed details to the police of events in Chequers and Downing Street following a review of Johnson’s official diary carried out ahead of the Covid public inquiry. The diary revealed around a dozen visits by friends to Chequers during the pandemic, and new allegations about Johnson’s behaviour in Downing Street. In a furious interview with Sky News, the former prime minister claimed he is being “stitched up”.
Approached by the broadcaster before boarding a flight in the US, Johnson said: “You want my honest view, I think this whole thing is completely nonsensical.” Johnson’s allies have accused deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden of being involved in a “political stitch-up”, claiming that Dowden and Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin are “at the heart” of an attempt to “smear” the former prime minister. Justice secretary Alex Chalk said there had been “no ministerial intervention” in the decision to pass on the diary entries, while the Cabinet Office said ministers had “played no role”. A Cabinet Office source meanwhile hit back at Johnson, adding that instead of complaining about the latest Partygate claims — which came to light thanks to Johnson’s own diaries — he should simply “publish” the evidence. The source told The Independent that the idea that ministers would interfere with police business is “clearly nuts”. They added: “I haven’t seen what’s in these diary entries, but if of no concern, why doesn’t Boris publish them and clear it up. He has them.” And the source labelled the accusation levelled at Dowden “rather tedious”, adding that “even the parliamentary party has had their fill of Johnson now”.
The Commons privileges committee, which is conducting an inquiry into whether Johnson lied to parliament about the Partygate scandal, has also been informed of the diary entries. Johnson’s future could be decided by the committee, as a suspension longer than 10 days would precipitate a recall petition in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, which could in turn lead to a by-election. Health secretary Steve Barclay threw his weight behind Johnson, telling Sky News that the former prime minister “has a huge role to play” in politics going forward. He cited his leadership on Ukraine as a key example, as well as the Covid vaccine rollout. Barclay added that he “of course” wants to see Johnson return as a member of parliament after the next election. Separately, Johnson’s former head of communications, Guto Harri, claimed that the former prime minister’s greatest fear while hospitalised with Covid was being given a tracheotomy — where an opening is made at the front of the neck so a tube can be inserted into the windpipe to help you breathe. In his Global Player podcast Unprecedented, Harri revealed that Johnson only realised how seriously ill he was when doctors began considering the procedure.
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