According to the Daily Mail, the Cabinet Office has commissioned some “devastating” legal advice from Lord Pannick QC that will stop the Commons’ Standards and Privileges Committee from investigating Boris Johnson over whether he misled the Commons over parties at No. 10. This advice is apparently going to be published later today.
According to the report, enforcing standards and investigating those who may have broken them will catch Ministers who “accidentally” mislead the House and this will impede the proper functioning of government. Let’s put aside for a moment the apparent acceptance that misleading the House should be a part of the proper functioning of government (not simply a description of reality for the last 3 years). Let’s also put aside the fact that the obligation is to correct a statement at the earliest opportunity if an incorrect statement has been made and, if so, no harm is done. The focus on “accidentally” in the newspaper report seems to be dishonest spin designed to conflate those who mislead but promptly correct with those who mislead, whether intentionally or otherwise, but make no attempt to correct.
Let’s ask instead a few questions about this legal advice.
- Is this legal advice to the government? Or to an individual MP currently facing investigation?
- If the latter, why is the Cabinet Office involved at all?
- if the former, why is the Attorney-General whose primary responsibility is to give the government legal advice not involved?
- Who commissioned this advice?
- Who authorised it?
- Who is paying for it?
- Will the instructions to Counsel also be published so that we can see what, precisely, were the issues Lord Pannick was being asked to advise on?
- And, finally, if this legal advice is being published, will all future legal advice to the government or its individual Ministers also be published?