Former UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson faced a heated grilling from Parliament’s Committee of Privileges on Wednesday after he stated that he did not intentionally misled Parliament over Partygate, The Guardian reported.
The MPs denounced his explanation as “flimsy” and said that he had wrongly interpreted the COVID guidance.
“I’m here to say to you, hand on heart, that I did not lie to the House,” Reuters quoted Johnson, as he accused the committee of bias.
The former prime minister was left fighting for his political career after a three-and-a-half-hour evidence session in which he repeatedly claimed No 10 parties, with alcohol and little social distancing, had been “necessary” for work purposes.
The MPs are investigating whether Johnson, who was ousted from Downing Street in September, intentionally or recklessly misled the House of Commons in a series of statements, where he said no rules were broken in the gatherings.
The Partygate scandal led to the ultimate downfall of Johnson after reports came up that he and other senior members of the government were present at alcohol-fuelled gatherings in Downing Street during 2020 and 2021 when Britain was forced to stay at home under COVID guidelines.
Johnson was fighting for his political career after a gruelling three and half hour evidence session, in which he claimed that the Downing Street parties were “necessary” for work purposes.
Harriet Harman, the chair of the Committee of Privileges, expressed dismay at the “flimsy nature” of assurances he received that events were within the rules.
Meanwhile, Bernard Jenkin, a senior Conservative MP on the committee, told him that the cross-party group of MPs did not agree with his interpretation of the guidance.
“The guidance does not say you can have a thank you party and as many people in the room as you like,” he added.
If the committee finds Johnson deliberately misled lawmakers, then he could be suspended. Any suspension longer than 10 days could prompt a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, further ending his political career.
As per The Guardian, the committee in its interim report put out this month, said that the evidence “strongly suggests” breaches of COVID guidance should have been obvious to the former PM, as he drew up these rules, and he may have misled parliament 4 times when he said all rules and guidance were followed.
However, during the evidence session, he admitted to social distancing guidance, “I’m not going to pretend that it was enforced rigidly.”
“When those statements were made, they were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time.”
He said he was “repeatedly” assured by No 10 aides that no rules based on coronavirus guidelines were broken.
Jenkin suggested he should have sought advice from lawyers, rather than political aides. The Guardian reported Harman as saying, “If I was going at 100mph and I saw the speedometer saying 100mph it would be a bit odd, wouldn’t it, if I said, “Somebody assured me that I wasn’t.”
The committee released new evidence, Simon Case, who worked as a cabinet secretary, denied giving assurances to Johnson that COVID ruled and guidelines were followed at all times in Downing Street. He said he was unaware of anyone else there giving assurances, either.
Johnson was fined by police for attending an event to celebrate his birthday in Downing Street in June 2020, making him the first prime minister found to have broken the law while in office. Some 126 fines were issued over the gatherings, as per Reuters.
The outcry and repeated accusations of lying over the parties and allegations that a Conservative lawmaker had drunkenly groped two men eventually prompted the resignations of most of his top team of government ministers, including the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, who was among those fined.
“People who say that we were partying in lockdown simply do not know what they are talking about,” Johnson said.
He said he was “shocked” to be fined and “amazed” by the number of other fines issued.
Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak has agreed to give Tory MPs a free vote on their conscience over Johnson’s fate.