Besieged but defiant: Boris Johnson dismisses Partygate allegations as 'nonsense' suggesting he won't accept verdict

23 March 2023, 00:58

Boris Johnson is fighting for his political future
Boris Johnson is fighting for his political future. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Boris Johnson has dismissed Partygate allegations as "complete nonsense", suggesting he will not accept the verdict of an inquiry if it finds he misled MPs over the scandal.

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The former PM spent hours defending himself to the Privileges Committee, having said that information he gave to Parliament late in 2021 was "honest but inadvertently misleading statements".

He said “hand on heart” that he had not meant to deceive Parliament about lockdown-breaking events at No10.

"What I can tell the right honourable and learned gentleman is that all guidance was followed completely in No10," he continued.

"I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations, assured that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken.

"I apologise for the impression that has been given that staff in Downing Street take this less than seriously."

He added that it would have been “utterly insane” to issue blanket denials he knew to be false.

Read more: James O’Brien brandishes Boris Johnson as a ‘liar’ ahead of Partygate grilling

Despite Mr Johnson saying he took "full responsibility" for what happened at Downing Street during his time there, he also hinted that he would not accept the inquiry as fair if it concluded against him, saying he would “wait to see”.

During his committee appearance, he said: "As you have said... the purpose of this inquiry is not to reopen so-called Partygate.

Boris Johnson made a passionate defence over his partygate statements
Boris Johnson made a passionate defence over his partygate statements. Picture: Alamy

"It is to discover whether or not I lied to Parliament, willingly misled colleagues and the country about what I knew and believed about those gatherings when I said the rules and the guidance had been followed at No10.

"I'm here to say to you hand on heart that I did not lie to the House.

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

Read more: PM's new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland receives backing of MPs - despite Boris Johnson and Liz Truss revolt

The Privileges Committee took turns grilling him about various events, showing him photos and asking if he knew the rules at the time and whether he realised they were breaking guidance.

Mr Johnson repeatedly denied this, and again repeated his claims that he believed they were above-board and relied on advice he received which told him they were fine.

He said it was "nonsense" to claim that it should have been "obvious" to him that the events broke rules, and added that if he had believed they were wrong he would not have got them pictured by the official No10 photographer.

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He told the MPs that he does not think it "can seriously mean" to accuse him of lying.

"If it was obvious to me that these events were contrary to the guidance and to the rules then it must have been equally obvious to the dozens of others including the most senior officials in the country," he said.

He told them the "overwhelming evidence" the committee has assembled is "that these individuals believed that the rules and the guidance were being complied with".

He said: "You are not only accusing me of lying, you are accusing all those civil servants, advisers, MPs, of lying about what they believed at the time to be going on, and as far as I know you're not giving any of them the chance to explain themselves with their own oral evidence.

"I don't think you seriously mean to accuse those individuals of lying and I don't think you can seriously mean to accuse me of lying."

Protesters gathered outside Parliament
Protesters gathered outside Parliament. Picture: Alamy

If the Privileges Committee believes Mr Johnson intentionally or recklessly misled Parliament, it can recommend sanctions for MPs to vote on in the Commons.

This could include a lengthy suspension which could even trigger a by-election in Mr Johnson's Uxbridge seat.

Such a damning find could seriously hamper Mr Johnson's future prospects at the top of politics.

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