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Boris Johnson faces high stakes over partygate scandal

Boris Johnson faces high stakes over partygate scandal


Boris Johnson is back where he likes to be: the center of attention. But hes not so happy with the reason.

The former British prime minister faces a grilling on Wednesday by a committee of lawmakers over whether he misled Parliament about parties breaking the rules in government buildings during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, an optimistic Johnson said the evidence conclusively showed that I had not knowingly or recklessly misled Parliament.

The committee did not produce any evidence to show that I did, he said.

Scheduled to last several hours, the hearing is 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 that Johnson deliberately lied, he could be suspended or even lose his seat in Parliament.

It would likely end hopes of one more comeback for the 58-year-old politician, who led the Conservative Party to a landslide victory in 2019 but was kicked out by his own party in July 2022 after becoming mired in scandals related to money, ethics and judgement.

Boris Johnson at his home in London
Boris Johnson at his home in London on Wednesday.Justin Tallis / AFP-Getty Images

In an interim report this month, the committee made up of Conservative and opposition lawmakers said the evidence strongly suggested it would have been obvious to Johnson that rallies at his Downing Street offices in 2020 and 2021 breached the Covid-19 lockdown rules.

Johnson admitted on Tuesday that his repeated assurances to parliament that the rules were followed at all times have not proven to be correct. But he said he did not intentionally or recklessly mislead lawmakers.

In a filing of written evidence, Johnson said it never occurred to him that the gatherings that variously included cake, wine, cheese and a secret exchange of festive Santa gifts breached restrictions on the socialization that his own government had imposed on the country.

He said he honestly believed that the five events he attended, including the dispatch of a staff member and his own surprise birthday party, were legal work gatherings.

No cake was eaten and no one even sang Happy Birthday, he said of the June 19, 2020 celebration.

Johnson said he had been assured by trusted advisers that neither legally binding rules nor government coronavirus guidelines had been breached.

However, several senior officials denied informing Johnson that the guidelines had always been followed. Written evidence released by the committee on Wednesday shows 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 late night, booze and Friday wine fines, including one to Johnson, and the scandal helped hasten the end of the premiership.

Revelations about the gatherings have sparked anger among Britons who had followed rules imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus, unable to visit friends and family or even say goodbye to dying relatives in hospitals.

Johnson said he had been assured by trusted advisers that no rules had been broken, assurances that turned out to be false. He said he was then genuinely shocked by the breach of the rules uncovered by police and senior civil servant Sue Gray, who led a partygate investigation.

Johnson and her supporters have also questioned Gray’s impartiality, as she has now accepted a post as chief of staff to the leader of the opposition Labor Party.

If the committee finds Johnson in contempt, it could recommend penalties ranging from verbal apologies 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.




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