LONDON In a day of great drama in British politics, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to look back on the scandals that brought down his post as Prime Minister and respond to lawmakers still angry about his he had intentionally misled them about government gatherings that violated pandemic lockdown rules.
Boris Johnson grilled on Partygate by Parliament
The stakes were high for the former prime minister, who was ousted by his own Conservative party but remains an MP and has signaled he might like another shot at the top.
In Britain, there are consequences for misleading Parliament. If the House of Commons privileges committee concludes that Johnson was deliberate and reckless in his accounts of drunken parties in his Downing Street offices at the height of the pandemic, he could face sanctions or a recall election. .
But Johnson and his supporters are also listening to the court of public opinion. His trust ratings are at rock bottom. Even though he is known as a charismatic politician who has bounced back many times before, his performance on Wednesday may not have been enough to help his political future.
Boris Johnson outlines Partygate defense ahead of Parliament grills
Johnson began by telling the committee that some gatherings in Downing Street had passed the point where they could be considered necessary for work purposes.
It was wrong. I bitterly regret it. I understand the public’s anger and continue to apologize for what happened on my watch and take full responsibility, he said.
But he insisted that everything he said to lawmakers was in good faith, and to the extent he misled them, it was an honest mistake.
The questioning was halted minutes after it began so lawmakers could vote on part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunaks is proposing a new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, dubbed the Windsor Framework. The plan to give Northern Ireland’s devolved government greater influence over EU law enforcement has been passed, with the backing of the opposition Labor Party. But Johnson helped lead a revolt against him, and his opposition helps legitimize the Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party’s continued refusal to participate in government there.
That two major storylines coincided on the same day was no coincidence, said Cambridge University professor Catherine Barnard, who specializes in the European Union. This was done deliberately to show MPs that Rishi Sunak needs to clean up the Boris Johnson mess, on Northern Ireland and the party mess.
Johnson’s grilling also helped distract those rebelling against the Sunaks deal, she noted.
Sunak further took advantage of Johnson’s momentary preoccupation to publish his detailed tax returns, which showed that one of the richest politicians to ever reside in Downing Street had paid more than £1 million (1.22 million) in taxes over the past three years. .
Richer than the Royal Family: Win puts Rishi Sunaks’ wealth in the spotlight
Sunak is often seen as a technocratic prime minister. But on Wednesday, he showed that he also knew how to play politics.
For his part, Johnson has been exposed in a way he has rarely been before. It wasn’t a two-minute BBC interview. He was not dominating the dispatch box, nor backed by cheers of approval from his party, as during Prime Ministers’ Question Period. Johnson sat alone accused facing seven panel members, including three from opposition parties.
Johnson has repeatedly explained that Downing Street gatherings were essential for work purposes, meaning they were exempt from certain social distancing provisions.
I find it hard to see how I could have led number 10, lead hundreds of officials, who needed to be thanked and appreciated for their work in very trying circumstances, without having brief farewell events , he said.
Conservative lawmaker Bernard Jenkins told Johnson: The guidelines don’t say you can have a thank you party, and with as many people in the room as you want, because you think it’s very important to thank people. folks, the guidelines don’t say that.
Johnson’s argument that farewell drinks were essential may not sit well with members of the public who have had to follow rules laid down by his government, including restrictions on funerals and hospital visits.
Responding to testimony from Johnson, a social media user writing: Ah yes, November 2020, when I was not allowed to accompany my pregnant wife to prenatal exams/appointments, and when my daughter was born, I was driven out of the hospital after an hour because I was not allowed to enter the service. But Boris says a departure was essential. Got it.
The committee also focused on whether Johnson corrected the record at the earliest opportunity, as he claimed. It took him six months to change his claim that lockdown guidelines were followed at all times. On Wednesday, he argued it had been appropriate to wait for senior civil servant Sue Gray to release her final report on Partygate. And he said he was shocked when he and others were fined for breaching the lockdown.
UK Partygate report blames No 10 for boozy lockdown parties
Wednesday’s exchanges were particularly tense when he was asked why he was relying on assurances from political advisers, not civil servants. In new evidence released on Wednesday, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case denied telling Johnson that coronavirus rules and guidelines were being followed at all times.
The British public and fellow Tories have long given Johnson plenty of slack, just as evangelicals and the Republican Party have excused former US President Donald Trump. They knew Johnson was a bit of a shrewd trickster, he wouldn’t say how many kids he had, and an American business executive claimed a torrid affair when he was mayor of London, but they stuck with him.
The Partygate scandal was another matter. It was one that the general public could easily understand: did you or didn’t you party in Downing Street during the lockdown? And what about your staff, at parties that involved karaoke, suitcases of wine, and booze until you vomited?
It did not go unnoticed that he started the Wednesday session by laying his hand on a Bible and taking an oath to tell the truth. If he is found to have lied, it could not only mean the end of his career, but it could also lead to perjury charges.
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