Johnson: ‘I haven’t lied’ about lockdown parties

A combative Boris Johnson is fighting for his political career, with the former British prime minister saying “hand on heart” at a hearing with MPs that he had not lied to parliament about Covid lockdown partying.

Parliament’s Privileges Committee is investigating whether Johnson, who was evicted from Downing Street last September, deliberately or recklessly misled the House of Commons in a series of statements, saying no rules were broken at the meetings.

If the committee finds Johnson deliberately misled lawmakers, he could be suspended. Any suspension longer than 10 days could trigger elections to remove him from his parliamentary seat and end his political career.

The former Conservative Party leader, who was considering a bold bid for a second term as prime minister last year, launched a lengthy defense at the hearing on Wednesday, saying statements he had made in parliament had been made in good faith.

“I’m here to tell you, hand on heart, that I have not lied to the House,” said Johnson, accusing the committee of bias.

“When those statements were made, they were made in good faith and based on what I honestly knew and believed at the time.”

The so-called partygate scandal contributed to Johnson’s eventual downfall, following months of reports that he, along with other senior government figures, had attended alcohol-fuelled Downing Street rallies in 2020 and 2021, when much of the rest of Britain was forced to stay at home.

Johnson was fined by police for attending an event to celebrate his birthday on Downing Street in June 2020, making him the first prime minister to break the law while in office. Some 126 fines were handed out during the meetings.

The outrage and repeated allegations of lying about the parties and allegations that a Conservative MP had groped two men while drunk eventually led to the resignation of most of his top team of ministers, including the current leader, Rishi Sunak, who was one of those fined .

THANK YOU STAFF

Harriet Harman, the committee’s chairman, said it would consider the evidence Johnson had provided and could gather more evidence in due course. She is expected to report her findings later in the year.

She stressed the importance of ministers telling the truth and said this goes to the heart of how the British parliamentary system functions.

At the start of the hearing, Johnson had to swear an oath to tell the truth on a Bible before giving his testimony.

He said the inquiry had found no evidence that he had deliberately misled parliament and said he had been banned by the committee from publishing a “large number of extracts” on which he relied in his defence.

When asked about events in May, November and December 2020, when he was pictured talking to drunk colleagues, Johnson said some meetings were “essential” to the government’s functioning. He said his presence at events was necessary to thank the staff for their hard work.

“People who say we were partying in lockdown just don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said angrily.

He said he was “appalled” that he was fined and was “surprised” at the number of other fines imposed.

“I think what actually happened was some nights events just went on too long and I can’t apologize enough for that,” he said.

Britain had one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in the world with more than 175,000 dead by the time Johnson said he would step down as prime minister.

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK campaign group said Wednesday marked “a new low” for Johnson, saying it was “painful to watch him play his usual tricks of distraction, self-pity and blaming everyone but himself”.

Johnson accepted that he had inadvertently misled parliament, but had believed what he had said when he spoke.

“I didn’t think those events were a problem. No one had brought them up to me before as things I should be concerned about,” Johnson said.

“Call me stupid or ignorant, but they didn’t strike me as breaking the rules.”