Boris Johnson denies lying to Parliament over ‘Partygate’
Boris Johnson argued on Wednesday that gatherings in Whitehall were “necessary” for work reasons during the Covid pandemic as he struggled for his political survival amid a three-hour barbecue of MPs.
The former PM has been forced to testify under oath before the Commons Privileges Committee, which is examining whether Johnson misled MPs about the 2020 and 2021 “Partygate” scandal.
Johnson acknowledged there was a time in Whitehall when a number of parties were held that flouted policy at the time, adding that he acknowledged the “public anger” provoked by the gatherings and “the take full responsibility”.
But he argued that ultimately there was not “a shred of evidence” to prove that he “knowingly or recklessly” misled Parliament in his account of the matter.
“I think if this committee found that I despise Parliament – after I came and did something so absolutely crazy and went against my beliefs and my principles, which is to come here, come to Parliament and knowingly lie — if that weren’t the case in my opinion, just unfair, I think it would be wrong,” he said.
If the committee concludes that Johnson committed contempt by deliberately misleading Parliament, members could propose possible sanctions, including a formal pardon or suspension from the House of Commons.
MPs would then vote on the proposed sanctions. A suspension of at least 10 days would allow voters in Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituencies to file a “callback petition” to trigger a by-election.
Johnson defended the validity of some assemblies. He described the farewell party on 13 November 2020 for Lee Cain – his former communications director – as “necessary” due to tensions in Downing Street at the time.
“Two senior officials, the effective chief of staff and the communications director, had both left the building or were about to leave the building in rather bitter circumstances – or potentially bitter circumstances,” he said. “It was important to me to be there and to give security.”
Johnson dismissed the characterization of officers “celebrating in lockdown” when questioned at a gathering in Downing Street Gardens on May 20, 2020.
“It wasn’t a big social gathering,” he said. “My goal was to thank the staff and motivate them at a very difficult time, also on a very difficult day when the Cabinet Secretary had just resigned.”
Sir Bernard Jenkin was among those who expressed skepticism about the former Prime Minister’s justifications, stating at one point in the session: “I don’t think we agree with your interpretation of the guidelines.”
Johnson’s defense relies largely on “reassurances” from aides, notably senior advisers Jack Doyle and James Slack.
However, in a series of heated discussions, committee members questioned whether he should have sought “proper advice” on the gatherings before informing the Commons that all guidance had been followed.
“That’s complete nonsense, I mean complete nonsense,” Johnson replied. “I asked the people in charge. They were seniors. They had worked very hard. Jack Doyle gave me a clear account of what had happened.”
The committee began its investigation on June 29, 2022 and has since reviewed a range of evidence, including 46 WhatsApp messages between Johnson and government officials, photographic evidence and contributions from the former prime minister’s legal team.
While Johnson’s supporters have dismissed the committee as a “kangaroo court”, the body of seven MPs is made up of four Conservative MPs, two Labor MPs and one from the Scottish National Party.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a close Johnson ally, said the former prime minister had been “persuasive and robust,” adding, “He will win in the court of public opinion.”
But some Tory MPs think Johnson is a busted flush; He was one of just 22 Tory Eurosceptics to vote against Rishi Sunak’s Northern Ireland Brexit deal on Wednesday. “He looks weak and lonely,” said a former Tory cabinet minister.
“This would be more relevant if he wanted to make a political comeback,” added another Conservative MP. “But he’s not.”
https://www.ft.com/content/6e1b0ea9-117b-4583-8ca5-035023426c66 Boris Johnson denies lying to Parliament over ‘Partygate’