Partygate hearings could be pushed back to New Year after No 10 delay |  Boris Johnson

Partygate hearings could be pushed back to New Year after No 10 delay | Boris Johnson

The Privileges Committee inquiry into whether Boris Johnson misled the Commons could be delayed until January, after No 10 finally handed over a cache of evidence relating to Partygate four months after it was requested.

The Guardian understands that the autumn deadline to begin oral evidence, where the former prime minister will be called as a witness, has been abandoned. Instead, sources said the highly anticipated sessions could be pushed back to after Christmas.

The delay has been blamed on the government office digging in and resisting providing key information that was requested four months ago.

Last Friday, what was described as a “hot batch” of documents was handed over to the committee. A range of information – including the former prime minister’s diaries, email invitations to events, No 10 registration logs, briefing papers and WhatsApp messages – was initially sought in July.

The seven-member committee, which has a Tory majority but is chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman, is expected to investigate whether Johnson misled parliament by denying that any Covid laws were broken.

MPs had hoped to start hearing oral evidence from as early as October, but they are only now beginning to sift through the bulk of evidence handed over by the government. With only three full sitting weeks before the Christmas break, it is doubtful whether all the evidence sessions can be completed before the festive break.

Members of the committee are now debating whether to push the evidence hearings into the new year, as there will be more time to question the witnesses.

“The worst thing that could happen is that the committee invites a witness in and then more evidence turns up afterwards that we would like to question them about,” said one source.

MPs on the committee go through the evidence line by line and can go back to No 10 and the Cabinet Office with further requests for information.

A spokesperson for the committee said it had been meeting every week where the Commons had been sitting since June to “establish processes, collect and analyze the evidence”.

They said: “The committee has been in continued conversation with the government to obtain evidence for the inquiry. It requested material from the government in July, which was provided in full last Friday.”

The spokesman added that MPs were “committed to progressing the investigation swiftly”.

The Guardian revealed earlier this month that the Cabinet Office and No 10 refused to hand over key information, redacting details such as passport logs. Some of the initial information provided to the committee was believed to have been redacted to the extent that crucial details were missing, leading to repeated attempts to extract more details.

At the time, government insiders said there was no set date when they were obliged to respond to ad hoc requests for information or documents from a select committee.

As the wait for oral evidence sessions continues, MPs are considering how to balance the need for transparency to ensure confidence that their investigations are conducted fairly with the potential need to protect whistleblowers.

Some collections of evidence may be kept private to protect identities where the committee deems necessary, with the account written up and released afterwards. Photographers may be barred from some public evidence sessions to avoid causing distress to witnesses.

A source said the evidence is likely to be taken in long sessions on consecutive days lasting about three weeks.

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