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Love him or hate him, everyone knows that Boris Johnson thrives on being the centre of attention.

Next Wednesday afternoon from 2pm the former prime minister will be back in the spotlight at Westminster for a high stakes appearance, which is bound to be a popcorn moment for spectators.

Live on television, members of the cross-party privileges committee will question Mr Johnson for up to four hours on whether he deliberately lied when he told the House of Commons that he had no knowledge of rule-breaking parties in Number 10 during the COVID emergency period.

If the MPs conclude that he is guilty, they will recommend punishment which could lead to him losing his parliamentary seat representing Uxbridge – a calamity which would surely end the political career of a man who would be prime minister again.

Technically the MPs have to decide whether Mr Johnson committed contempt of the House by lying to it about the parties, and not correcting his words subsequently.

It is a trial by his peers.

First, the seven MPs on the privileges committee. Then, if punishment is recommended, the whole House of Commons will say whether to implement it.

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The committee’s work has already caused ructions at Westminster.

Chris Bryant, the senior Labour MP who chaired it, stood aside, or rather “recused” himself as the jargon has it, because of previous outspoken criticisms of Mr Johnson.

MPs were reluctant to let the ranking Tory, the maverick Brexiteer Sir Bernard Jenkin take over, so Harriet Harman, the former Labour deputy leader was co-opted to take the chair.

Meanwhile two Conservatives on the committee, first time MP Andy Carter and Alberto Costa, quit minor posts in government to keep their place on it. The other members are Allan Dorans (SNP), Yvonne Fovargue (Labour), and Sir Charles Walker (Conservative). Four Conservatives gives them the majority on the seven member committee.

Taxpayers are paying for Mr Johnson to hire his own lawyers on behalf of the government.

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Sky’s political correspondent Liz Bates explains everything you need to know about the partygate inquiry

Strong circumstantial case against Mr Johnson

David Pannick, an independent member of the House of Lords, duly produced opinions that the committee’s actions are “very unsatisfactory” and “fundamentally flawed”.

His main argument was that the crux should be not whether Mr Johnson misled the House but whether there was “intention to mislead”.

Lord Pannick KC’s other clients include Sir Philip Green, Shamima Begum and Manchester City FC.

MPs are lawmakers who regulate their own affairs and they set aside Lord Pannick’s argument.

Boris Johnson pictured toasting staff in Downing Street during lockdown
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Boris Johnson pictured toasting staff in Downing Street during lockdown
Boris Johnson at a gathering on 14 January 2021
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Boris Johnson at a gathering on 14 January 2021

Nonetheless, Mr Johnson’s intentions in making the statements he did will be flashpoints during his grilling next week.

There is a strong circumstantial case against Mr Johnson. He repeatedly denied any knowledge of parties and rule breaking during the COVID restriction periods in 2020 and 2021, even though he had announced many of the regulations himself.

He subsequently accepted a fixed penalty notice from the Metropolitan Police, and paid a fine for attending a party on his birthday.

Like the Sue Gray report into partygate before it, the pre-hearing interim report from the privileges committee this month cites “evidence that a culture of drinking in the workplace in some parts of No 10 continued after the COVID restrictions began” including “birthday parties and leaving parties for officials”.

The committee’s report contains photographs which show more booze and crowding than the pictures released by Ms Gray.

Read more:
Boris Johnson re-selected to run in Uxbridge at next general election after suggestions of safer seat
Top civil servant warned Boris Johnson was ‘distrusted figure’ during COVID pandemic

Yet when Mr Johnson was questioned about the parties in the Commons after the stories broke in the media in the closing months of 2021 he repeatedly denied them.

On 1 December 2021 he told the House: “All guidance was followed completely in Number 10.”

On 8 December he stated: “The guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times… I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and no COVID rules were broken.”

Committee wants answers on four points

The committee’s interim report amounts to a rap sheet he will face.

The committee wants answers on four points.

Did Mr Johnson mislead, i.e. lie, when he said “No rules were broken” and that he had “no knowledge of gatherings”?

Was he truthful when he said he needed to rely on assurances of officials that no rules had been broken and that he needed to wait for Sue Gray’s report to find out whether rule-breaking parties had taken place?

The committee has taken written evidence from 23 people involved and has already concluded “breaches of [COVID] guidance would have been obvious to Mr Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings”.

Lying is a very delicate subject at Westminster. Many members of the public may think it is what politicians do all the time. But accusations of lying are officially designated “unparliamentary language”, and no MP is allowed to directly accuse another of doing so.

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The assumption is that no “honourable or right honourable” member would lie and that if they inadvertently tell a falsehood, they will correct the official record.

In recent times, government ministers have corrected their statements in Hansard more than one hundred times a year.

Former PM will be playing to the dwindling band of Boris-loyalist politicians

No one knows how tough the questioning will be on Wednesday or how Mr Johnson will react to it.

His lifelong tactic when in a tight spot is to flatter his audience and try to make a performative joke of it.

As his admiring father Stanley reminisced it worked in the school play at Eton: “Boris was playing the title role. It was fairly obvious that he hadn’t learnt the part, but he winged it splendidly, inventing on the hoof a sequence of nearly perfect Shakespearean pentameters.”

Mr Johnson’s appearances before more demanding audiences have gone less well.

Asked if he was a habitual liar, he could only bluster “I don’t agree with that conclusion”.

He was forced to stand down as prime minister last summer shortly after a member of the Liaison Committee of MPs told him bluntly “the game is up”.

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Boris Johnson faces a political battle over partygate as MPs said evidence suggests breaches over COVID rules would have been obvious to the then prime minister

Sir Max Hastings, who boosted Mr Johnson when he was working for him at The Daily Telegraph now abominates him.

He has remarked: “Those who know Boris best like him least.”

Mr Johnson has never been “a House of Commons man” but MPs cannot fail to know him well by now.

However he is treated by the committee, Mr Johnson will be playing to the dwindling band of Boris-loyalist politicians and party members and his champions in the Tory media, who are already claiming that he was brought down unjustly by a partisan left-wing conspiracy.

Unlike Mr Johnson, who catastrophically tried to use the whip on his MPs to save his friend Owen Patterson from a 30-day suspension for corruption, Rishi Sunak has said he will not interfere.

Mr Johnson’s fate may well hang on which way Conservative MPs jump, on the committee and afterwards in the whole House.

The psephologist Peter Kellner has a single word of advice for those Conservatives hankering to bring back Boris: “don’t” – in their own interest.

Inquiry unlikely drive the stake through the heart of Mr Johnson’s political career

Analysing an opinion poll by Delta, Mr Kellner points out that Mr Johnson is more unpopular with the public than either Mr Sunak or Sir Keir Starmer, and just as disliked as the lowly ranked Conservative Party, meaning he would bring no bounce with him.

All the same, the chances must be low that the lying inquiry will finally drive the stake through the heart of Mr Johnson’s political career via the Recall of MPs Act, which was introduced by David Cameron.

First the committee would have to recommend a suspension of more than 10 sitting days as punishment, then it would need to be endorsed by a majority in the House. Only then would a recall petition have to take place in his constituency. Next, 10% of the electorate in Uxbridge would have to sign it, to kick him out and force a by-election.

That sequence is a tall order.

The betting has to be that “the greased piglet”, as David Cameron called him, will slip past his political slaughtermen again and carry on drawing attention to himself.

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Sydney stabbings attack: Hundreds of mourners gather at candlelight vigil

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Sydney stabbings attack: Hundreds of mourners gather at candlelight vigil

Mourners gathered to pay tribute to the six killed in a stabbing at an Australian shopping mall.

New South Wales Police identified the man behind the attack at the Westfield Shopping Centre in Bondi Junction on 13 April as Joel Cauchi, 40.

He was shot and killed by an officer after fatally stabbing six people – five women and one man – and injuring several others, including a nine-month-old baby.

Eight days after the attack, hundreds gathered for a candlelight vigil on Bondi Beach in Sydney, where Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese paid respects to those killed.

Anthony Albanese addresses a candlelight vigil at Sydney's Bondi Beach. Pic: AP
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.Pic: AP

Pic: AP
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Pic: AP

Mr Albanese said the gathering was “to grieve for all that has been stolen from us”.

“All that has been stolen from us, all the possibility and potential, all the kindness and humanity, all the love and laughter of the six lives snatched away,” the prime minister added.

“To honour all they were and respect all they meant, all the years of joy they should have known, all the memories they should have a chance to make.”

Pic: AP
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Pic: AP

Mourners hold candles at a vigil for victims of the Bondi shopping mall stabbing. Pic: AP
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Pic: AP

After Mr Albanese’s speech, the crowd took part in a minute’s silence before New South Wales (NSW) premier Chris Minns said “this week we saw a single bouquet left on Oxford Street grow into a sea of flowers”.

He also said the vigil would be an opportunity to “stand by those that have lost loved ones and remember those that have been killed.”

Amy Scott, the NSW police officer who killed Cauchi, was in attendance in the vigil.

Amy Scott, who shot and killed the Sydney stabbing attacker, at the vigil. Pic: Reuters
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Pic: Reuters

Amy Scott at the Community Candlelight Vigil with other police officers. Pic: Reuters
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Pic: Reuters

Five of the six killed were women, and authorities previously said they are looking into the possibility that Cauchi targeted women in the attack.

NSW officials named the victims as Ashlee Good, 38, Dawn Singleton, 25, Jade Young, 47, Pikria Darchia, 55, Cheng Yixuan, 25 and on-duty Westfield security guard Faraz Tahir, 30.

Read more from Sky News:
‘A very sick boy’: Attacker’s parents apologise
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(Clockwise) Yixuan Cheng, Dawn Singleton, Ashlee Good, Faraz Tahir, Pikria Darchia and  Jade Young
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(Clockwise) Yixuan Cheng, Dawn Singleton, Ashlee Good, Faraz Tahir, Pikria Darchia and Jade Young

Ms Good tried to save her nine-month-old baby Harriet when she was attacked by the 40-year-old – who suffered from schizophrenia.

She was said to have passed her baby to two men after she was badly injured.

It comes after NSW health minister Ryan Park shared on Sunday evening that the baby has been released from hospital.

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“I can confirm the child who has been receiving care at Sydney Children’s Hospital following last weekend’s tragic events at Bondi Junction has been discharged home,” he said in a statement.

“She continues to receive care from the expert clinicians at Sydney Children’s Hospital.”

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Crucial $60.8bn Ukraine aid package approved by US House of Representatives after months of deadlock

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Crucial .8bn Ukraine aid package approved by US House of Representatives after months of deadlock

The US House of Representatives has approved sending $60.8bn (£49bn) in foreign aid to Ukraine.

Democrats and Republicans joined together after months of deadlock over renewed American support to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion.

Representatives could be seen waving small Ukrainian flags as it became clear the package was going to pass.

Representatives wave Ukrainian flags
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Representatives wave Ukrainian flags

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted to say he was “grateful” for the decision, which he said “keeps history on the right track”.

He said: “Democracy and freedom will always have global significance and will never fail as long as America helps to protect it.

“The vital US aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger.”

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‘Grateful’ Zelenskyy reacts to US aid

Representatives also approved bills to send foreign aid to Israel and provide humanitarian relief to Palestinians in Gaza, give security assistance to Taiwan and allies in the Indo-Pacific, and a measure containing several foreign policy proposals including a threat to ban Chinese-owned social media app TikTok.

The package will now go to the US Senate, where it is likely to be passed on Tuesday. President Joe Biden has then promised to sign it immediately.

“I urge the Senate to quickly send this package to my desk so that I can sign it into law and we can quickly send weapons and equipment to Ukraine to meet their urgent battlefield needs,” Mr Biden said.

What aid package means for Ukraine after profound impact of delay

The impact of this American blockage has been profound.

I have had multiple conversations with diplomats and military officials in Washington DC and all have said the same thing: the situation for Ukraine is depressing, Russia has the upper hand and prospects for Kyiv, without more weapons, are bleak.

The Ukrainians have been running low on all weapons types, even small arms – bullets for their soldiers’ rifles.

Before the House of Representatives approved the $60.8bn aid package on Saturday, it had been more than 480 days since Congress last passed a bill allowing for American weapons to be sent to Ukraine.

There was a White House budgetary fudge earlier this year which freed up some more cash from an existing bill and allowed for some more weapons to be sent. But it wasn’t enough.

Read more of Mark Stone’s analysis here.

Bill will ‘further ruin’ Ukraine, Russia warns

Moscow said the passage of the bill would “further ruin” Ukraine and result in more deaths.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the TASS news agency a provision allowing Washington to confiscate seized Russian assets and transfer them to Ukraine for reconstruction would tarnish the image of the US.

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Major Russian strike on Ukraine kills eight

‘Ukraine can and will win’

UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said the funding was “a vital step forward”.

“If Putin ever doubted the West’s resolve to back Ukraine, this shows our collective will is undimmed,” he tweeted.

“With support, Ukraine can and will win.”

But Donald Trump ally Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican representative who has opposed helping Ukraine in its war against Russia, said “people have been too obsessed with voting for foreign wars and the war industry”.

Speaking after the vote passed, she said: “This is the sellout of America today. When we had members of Congress in there waving the Ukrainian flag on the United States House of Representatives floor, while we’re doing nothing to secure our border, I think every American is going to be furious.”

Mr Biden first requested the funding in October, as Ukraine’s military supplies began to dwindle.

In February, Mr Zelenskyy urged Congress to pass the funding, saying if it did not “it will leave me wondering what world we are living in”.

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Iran foreign minister downplays Israeli attack and says drones used ‘like children’s toys’

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Iran foreign minister downplays Israeli attack and says drones used 'like children's toys'

Iran has said Israeli involvement in Friday’s attack is still to be established and dismissed the drones used as like children’s toys.

Foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian claimed they took off from within Iran and only flew a few hundred metres before being shot down.

Israel hasn’t commented but is widely believed to be behind the strike targeting an airbase and nuclear site near Isfahan.

Middle East latest: Worshippers in Tehran chant ‘death to Israel’

The US told a G7 meeting that Israel had told it about the attack “at the last minute”.

Israel had been weighing up how to respond to Iran’s unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel last weekend – with Western powers urging restraint.

“It has not been proved to us that there is a connection between these and Israel,” Mr Amir-Abdollahian told Sky’s US partner NBC News.

More on Iran

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Israel wanted to ‘send a message’

Iran said its air defences destroyed three drones and reported no damage or casualties.

The foreign minister said they were “more like toys that our children play with” than a serious threat, as he sought to play down the threat.

Authorities and media in Iran have described it as an attack by unknown “infiltrators”, dismissing the notion it was an Israeli offensive that bypassed its border defences.

Experts have said the modest, targeted strike appeared designed to avoid further escalation and it appears – for now – to have dampened fears of direct war.

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‘Blasts’ shown over Iran

‘If not, then we are done’

Mr Amir-Abdollahian said Iran was still investigating the attack and reiterated Israeli retaliation would mean an immediate and severe response – “but if not, then we are done. We are concluded”.

Meanwhile, the former head of Israel’s national security council said he didn’t believe there would be “real escalation” after Friday’s limited attack.

Major General Giora Eiland told Sky’s Yalda Hakim the strike showed Israel can reach “even sensitive places”, but it had tried to “do it in a way that both sides can be satisfied”.

He said both nations would try to emphasise their own success and minimise that of the other side.

Read more:
Targeted strike is a message – and Iran’s response is telling
Rules of the game have now shifted

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Military analyst Professor Michael Clarke said it made sense for Iran to try to downplay the attack.

He said it “relieves them of the responsibility of being so outraged they have to do something even more decisive”.

Prof Clarke added that Israel almost certainly used ballistic missiles, rather than drones, but that ultimately both sides were “trying to save face”.

Friday’s strike came after Iran launched an aerial assault on Israel on 13 April, involving about 300 drones and missiles.

It was mostly intercepted and no deaths were reported, but was a dramatic moment that bypassed the usual method of attacks via proxy groups.

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Military analyst Professor Clarke on Israeli attack

Iran’s attack was itself retaliation for a strike – attributed to Israel – on an Iranian consulate in Syria on 1 April.

Two generals and seven members of Iran’s revolutionary guards were killed in the incident.

The Israel-Hamas war – which has seen attacks by Iranian and Israeli proxies increase – has helped create the conditions for this week’s historic flare-up.

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