Taxpayers will have to fork out at least £222,000 for Boris Johnson’s legal fees as he defends himself against claims he misled parliament over Partygate, MPs have heard.
The bill for lawyers advising the former prime minister has risen from £129,700 in August 2021, and could go up again depending on how long the privileges committee inquiry takes, officials have admitted.
The committee is investigating whether Mr Johnson committed contempt of parliament by telling the Commons on several occasions that there were no lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.
He received a fixed-penalty notice from the Metropolitan Police over a string of parties in Downing Street during England’s first lockdown in May, November and December 2020 and April 2021.
As reports of parties emerged, Mr Johnson told MPs that “all guidance was followed in No 10” and that “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.
The then-prime minister also told parliament he was “sickened” at the thought of No 10 staff ignoring social restrictions, but was later forced to admit to MPs that he attended at least one such event.
The inquiry into whether he misled parliament was launched after the Commons passed a Labour motion calling for the question to be investigated.
Solicitors firm Peters and Peters was awarded a contract worth £129,700 in August 2021 to provide Mr Johnson with advice during the investigation into his conduct by the privileges committee.
Now Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm has told the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee that the amount has since shot up to £222,000, because of the length of the inquiry.
But he admitted it was not a limit and could increase again. He said: “At the moment we have estimated that it would be up to a figure of £200,000, which has been published – £222,000 to be precise.
“We hope and expect that will be a maximum figure but obviously we don’t want to anticipate and certainly could not regulate the conduct of the committee, which is entirely up to them.”
No 10 staffers had claimed Mr Johnson had known lockdown rules were breached with gatherings.
The contract with Peters and Peters has already paid for legal advice from leading KC Lord Pannick, who has produced two opinions on the inquiry.
The first, published on the government’s website in September 2021, claimed the committee was adopting an “unfair procedure” and a “fundamentally flawed” approach.
Mr Chisholm said it was “normal” for the government to pay the legal fees of former ministers when an inquiry related to their ministerial conduct, and the contract with Peters and Peters had received “very full scrutiny from all the relevant people”.
Lord Pannick’s second opinion has not been published, but Mr Dowden was unable to say why as he had not been a minister at the time.
If the former prime minister is found to have deliberately misled parliament, the committee will recommend potential sanctions.
MPs could then in theory be asked to decide whether he should be expelled from parliament.