Liz Truss has said that she would vote to shut down an investigation into whether Boris Johnson lied to parliament – but downplayed the likelihood of the probe being stopped.
The outgoing prime minister is facing a probe by the Privileges Committee over what he said in the Commons about his lockdown partying and lawbreaking.
Asked during a hustings in Darlington whether she would vote to end the inquiry by MPs on the standards committee, frontrunner to replace Mr Johnson said: “Yes – but there isn’t a vote and it’s going ahead.”
Ms Truss’s comments will be seen as an attempt to curry favor with Tory grandees, who have been trying to pick holes in the investigation to get their friend off the hook.
Allies of Mr Johnson last month branded the probe a “Kangaroo court”, in attacks on the disciplinary process reminiscent of those which elevated the Owen Paterson corruption affair to a political crisis.
In that instance Tory MPs used their parliamentary majority to stop the suspension of their colleague Mr Paterson after he was found to have breached lobbying rules.
The move caused outrage and was seen as MPs putting their own above the law, when Mr Paterson was found to have “repeatedly used his privileged position to benefit two companies for whom he was a paid consultant, and that this has brought the house into disrepute “.
Similarly, Tory MPs are now angry that the inquiry will rely on what they call “hearsay evidence” and that it is being chaired by Labor MP Harriet Harman.
This is despite the committee having a Tory majority and the inquiry being assisted by a former Lord Justice of Appeal.
In June, before the collapse of Mr Johnson’s government, Ms Truss previously said she “implicitly” trusts the privileges committee to make the right decision.
Sue Gray’s inquiry into parties in Downing Street and Whitehall found that there were “failures of leadership and judgment in Number 10”.
Mr Johnson was given a fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police for being present at a birthday party; there is also an ongoing legal challenge to decisions not to issue him with fines for other events he was present at.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader said ms truss was enabling Mr Johnson’s “rotten culture” in Downing Street.
“Liz Truss is continuing to prop up the disgraced Prime Minister even after he has been forced from office. She is aiding and abetting his attempts to dodge scrutiny and evade accountability to the public for his behaviour,” she said.
“Boris Johnson created a rotten culture at the heart of Downing Street and toxified the Tory Party from top to bottom. Liz Truss enabled him and is showing she would continue to follow his lead if she is installed into Number 10. Liz Truss must now confirm in no uncertain terms that she will not undermine the privileges committee and she will appoint an ethics chief on day one of her leadership.
“While the Tories offer more of the same, only Labor will stop the rot and bring the change our country needs.”