Boris Johnson lashes out at ‘absurd’ Partygate committee claims
Boris Johnson lashed out at the committee of MPs investigating whether he lied over Partygate – accusing the cross-party of “absurd, illogical and partisan” claims against him.
Setting out his defence in a 52-page dossier ahead of Wednesday’s TV grilling, the former PM admitted that he misled MPs about rule-breaking – but insisted his denials were made “in good faith” based on what he “honestly” knew at the time.
Mr Johnson also claimed the though staff drinking wine at No 10 was within the rules – claiming he and other officials believed that gathering to drink alcohol was necessary for “work purposes”.
The ex-Tory leader defended joining leaving parties inside No 10 during the pandemic – arguing it was his “duty” as prime minister to attend – saying: “I might raise a glass to honour a colleague, but that was it.”
Defending his appearance at the 13 November 2020 leaving do for then-communications director Lee Cain, he said: “When I looked around the room, I did not think anyone was breaking any rules or guidance: on the contrary, I thought that we were all doing our job.”
He also claimed it was still unclear to him why he was fined for attending his birthday party at No 10 in June 2020 – saying no-one sang to him at the sandwich lunch. “No cake was eaten, and no-one even sang happy birthday.”
Mr Johnson also said he did not recall saying that a 27 November leaving party was “probably the most unsocially distanced gathering in the UK right now”, a claim noted in the committee’s interim report.
The ex-PM said the joke “seems unlikely”, before adding: “But I might well have made observations in speeches about social distancing, and whether it was being perfectly observed. That does not mean that I thought the guidance was contravened.”
The former Tory leader insisted to the privileges committee inquiry that he “did not intentionally or recklessly mislead the House” and claimed that he corrected the record at the “earliest opportunity” after the Metropolitan Police probe issued 126 fines.
Mr Johnson attacked the “highly partisan” and “selective” content of the committee’s damning interim report, after the group of MPs alleged that it would have been “obvious” to him that Covid guidance was not followed.
The committee is investigating whether Mr Johnson “knowingly” or “recklessly” misleading parliament – but Mr Johnson accused the committee of moving the goalposts by adding “recklessly” to their terms of reference.
The ex-Tory leader said the committee appeared to be alleging that it was “in some way reckless” for Mr Johnson to have relied on assurances from trusted advisers on Covid rules and guidance. “That allegation is unprecedented and absurd.”
He insisted that, other than the “assertions of the discredited Dominic Cummings”, his former chief aide turned enemy, there is “not a single document that indicates that I received any warning or advice that any event broke” the rules.
Mr Johnson rejected the idea that Covid rule breaches would have been “obvious” to him. He called the allegation “illogical”, arguing that some of those who attended the events “wished me ill and would denounce me if I concealed the truth”.
“Far from achieving a ‘cover-up’, I would have known that any deception on my part would lead to instant exposure. This would have been senseless and immediately self-defeating,” he wrote.
He said it was “implausible” that he would have known the parties photographed and “immortalised” by his official photographer were rule-breaking.
If Mr Johnson fails to convince the committee he did not deliberately mislead the Commons, he could be suspended. A suspension of more than 10 days could result in a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat.
The full Commons would vote on any recommendations. Rishi Sunak has committed to giving his MPs a free vote over Mr Johnson’s fate, but the PM has declined to discuss claims from some of Mr Johnson’s allies that the process is a “witch hunt”.
Johnson allies have questioned the impartiality of Labour grandee Harriet Harman chairing the Tory-majority committee and the use of the Sue Gray report, now she plans to join Sir Keir Starmer’s office.
The ex-PM received one of the 126 fines issued during Scotland Yard’s investigation into lockdown-breaking parties in No 10 and Whitehall.
But Mr Johnson said it “remains unclear” to him – and possibly to Mr Sunak – why they were fined for breaching lockdown laws.
Saying he “accepted” the conclusion of the Metropolitan Police, he added: “However, to this day it remains unclear to me – and I believe the prime minister may feel the same – how precisely we committed an offence under the regulations.”
He added: “We had a sandwich lunch together and they wished me happy birthday. I was not told in advance that this would happen. No cake was eaten, and no-one even sang happy birthday. The primary topic of conversation was the response to Covid-19.”
The privileges committee is considering at least four occasions when Mr Johnson may have misled MPs with his assurances that lockdown rules were followed.
Following the release of Mr Johnson’s written evidence, the privileges committee claimed it “contains no new documentary evidence”. Rejecting claims from Johnson and his allies of bias and “partisan” claims, the committee said it remains “confident in the fairness of its processes”.
An estimated £220,000 of taxpayers’ money has been allocated for Mr Johnson’s legal bills.
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