Under oath, Boris Johnson denies lying on ‘partygate’
LONDON (AP) Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted Wednesday that he had never lied to lawmakers about government parties breaking the rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, mounting a strong defense in a hearing that could damage or even end his tumultuous political career.
The House of Commons Standards Committee asked Johnson about misleading statements he made in Parliament about a slew of gatherings in government buildings that broke lockdown rules. If the committee finds he deliberately lied, he could be suspended or even lose his seat in the House of Commons.
Johnson swayed out, telling the committee after taking the oath on a Bible: Hand on heart…I didn’t lie to the House.
If anyone thinks I was partying during lockdown, they’re dead wrong, Johnson said in a session that showed his signature qualities: blazing self-confidence, verbosity and for critics a loose relationship with facts.
Johnson also criticized the committee, which has four Conservative and three opposition party members, saying it was acting as investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury.
The three-hour hearing was a perilous moment for a politician whose career has been a roller coaster of scandals and setbacks.
If the House of Commons Privileges Committee finds Johnson deliberately lied, it would likely end hopes of a return to power for the 58-year-old politician, who led the Conservative Party to a landslide victory in 2019.
He was expelled by his own party in July 2022 after becoming mired in scandals over money, ethics and judgement.
After party reports were released in December 2021, Johnson repeatedly assured lawmakers that he and his staff had always followed the rules.
That turned out to be wrong, Johnson acknowledged. But he said that was what I honestly believed at the time.
I apologize for inadvertently misleading this House, but to say that I did so recklessly or deliberately is totally wrong, he said.
In an interim report this month, the committee said the evidence strongly suggested that it would have been obvious to Johnson that gatherings at his No 10 Downing Street offices in 2020 and 2021 breached COVID lockdown rules. -19.
But Johnson said it never occurred to him that the events which variously included cake, wine, cheese and a secret exchange of festive Santa gifts breached restrictions on socializing his own government imposed on the country.
He said he sincerely believed that the five events he attended, including the dispatch of a staff member and his own surprise birthday party, were lawful work gatherings intended to boost member morale. overworked staff in the face of a deadly pandemic.
He said that during the birthday celebration on June 19, 2020, no one sang Happy Birthday and the Union Jack cake remained in his Tupperware box, without me noticing.
Johnson said trusted advisers assured him that neither legally binding rules nor government coronavirus guidelines had been breached.
However, several senior officials denied informing Johnson that the guidelines were still being followed. Written evidence released by the committee on Wednesday showed Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds said he questioned whether it was realistic to claim all guidelines had been followed at all times.
Police eventually issued 126 fines during late nights, booze parties, and wine hour Fridays, including one at Johnsonand the scandal helped hasten the end of his premiership.
The revelations about the gatherings sparked anger among Britons who had followed government pandemic rules, unable to visit friends and family or even say goodbye to dying relatives in hospitals. Police have fined thousands of people across the country for minor rule violations.
Johnson said he was then genuinely shocked by the government’s breach of the rules, uncovered by police and senior civil servant Sue Gray, who led a partygate investigation.
The committee said it would take time to review the evidence. If he finds Johnson in contempt, he could recommend penalties ranging from an oral apology to suspension of Parliament, although any penalty must be approved by the full House of Commons.
A suspension of 10 days or more would allow his constituents in the seat of the London suburbs of Uxbridge and South Ruislip to call for a special election to replace Johnson as MP.
Rivka Gottlieb of the COVID-19 lobby group Bereaved Families for Justice said the session was a new low for Boris Johnson.
Clearly he lied when he told us to our face that he did everything he could to protect our loved ones, he lied again when he said the rules weren’t broken in the number 10, and he’s now lying when he denies that, Gottlieb says.
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