'I believe these events were within the rules', says Boris as MPs claim Covid breaches would have been 'obvious'

3 March 2023, 12:23 | Updated: 4 March 2023, 07:17

Boris Johnson will give evidence to the Privileges Committee on March 20
Boris Johnson will give evidence to the Privileges Committee on March 20. Picture: Privileges Committee
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Boris Johnson has said he believes Partygate events were "within the rules" - despite a Commons committee saying evidence suggested Covid rule breaches would have been "obvious" to him at the time.

A report by the Privileges Committee also said there was evidence "that those who were advising Mr Johnson about what to say to the press and in the House were themselves struggling to contend that some gatherings were within the rules".

The Director of Communications in Number 10 at the time said: "I'm struggling to come up with a way this one is in the rules in my head," the report stated.

Speaking after the committee of MPs' initial 24-page report Mr Johnson said: "I believed what we were doing was within the conformity of the COVID regulations."

He added: "I believe implicitly that these events were within the rules."

He went on: "There's been no contempt here."

The former prime minister will give evidence to the Privileges Committee in the week beginning March 20, though Mr Johnson has already said he feels "vindicated".

The committee has confirmed that the report is only one aspect of their investigation and said final conclusions will be set out "only when we have heard oral evidence from Mr Johnson."

Boris Johnson attends 'gathering' during lockdown
Boris Johnson attends 'gathering' during lockdown. Picture: Privileges Committee
Boris Johnson attends 'gathering' during lockdown
Boris Johnson attends 'gathering' during lockdown. Picture: Privileges Committee

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In a statement issued following the report, the former prime minister said: "It is clear from this report that I have not committed any contempt of Parliament. It is also clear that what I have been saying about this matter from the beginning has been vindicated.

"That is because there is no evidence in the report that I knowingly or recklessly misled parliament, or that I failed to update parliament in a timely manner.

"Nor is there any evidence in the report that I was aware that any events taking place in No 10 or the Cabinet Office were in breach of the rules or the guidance."

Former prime minister of United Kingdom, Boris Johnson speaks during the Global Soft Power Summit in London
Former prime minister of United Kingdom, Boris Johnson speaks during the Global Soft Power Summit in London. Picture: Getty

When asked for evidence by the committee, Mr Johnson said he held "no relevant material" - after three separate requests by the committee.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer said: "I think the evidence of wrongdoing by Boris Johnson is already pretty damning.

"I think it is important to bear in mind that Rishi Sunak, at the time, was obviously very close to all of this and sat on his hands.

"And I think, first and foremost, of the families - not just those who lost loved ones, but also all of the families who were obeying the rules, changing their lives while those in Government were not following their own rules.

"And I think that, having been sitting on his hands through all that, Rishi Sunak, who of course got fined in this process, is under a very heavy obligation now to ensure that we move forward as fast as we can with the Covid inquiry and he absolutely acts on any recommendations that come in the interim."

The committee issued a public call for evidence on June 30 2022, followed by two private requests to the former prime minister in the following month, the report stated.

On August 12, Mr Johnson replied and "stated that, in relation to the committee's request for documents held in his personal possession, he held no relevant material".

Boris Johnson said he feels "vindicated" by the committee&squot;s report
Boris Johnson said he feels "vindicated" by the committee's report. Picture: Privileges Committee

The Privileges Committee said that it will explore evidence that Boris Johnson misled the House in a number of ways, including when he told the House of Commons on December 8 2021 that no rules or guidance had been broken.

It also highlighted Mr Johnson's failure to tell the House about his own knowledge of the gatherings where the rules or guidance had been broken.

It said MPs may also have been misled by Mr Johnson's assertion that he relied upon repeated assurances that the rules had not been broken.

Read More: Sue Gray joining Labour shows Partygate was 'deliberate and manufactured plot', Boris Johnson ally claims

It comes amid a growing row over the Labour Party's appointment of partygate's lead investigator Sue Gray as its new chief of staff.

The former prime minister's allies have argued that the appointment of Ms Grey by Sir Keir Starmer could undermine the Privileges Committee inquiry.

Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries said that Ms Gray's evidence can no longer be relied upon in "any meaningful" until it is established how long she has had a "personal relationship with Keir Starmer".

"It is very hard to see how Sue has not breached the civil service code," she added.

Mr Johnson himself said it was "surreal" to discover that the Committee will rely on evidence "culled and orchestrated by Sue Gray".

Chief partygate investigator Sue Gray
Chief partygate investigator Sue Gray. Picture: Getty

Mark Jenkinson MP claimed it is a "total circus", with veteran Conservative Peter Bone adding: "The privileges committee has today admitted its key witness is none other than Sue Gray, Keir Starmer's chief of staff.

"How can she possibly be called before the committee to answer all the points that it makes about her evidence - mentioning her dozens of times? This is a farce."

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Privileges Committee said: "The committee's report is not based on the Sue Gray report."

They added that the committee's report is based off material supplied by the government in November, including WhatsApp, emails and photos.

"Sue Gray was present at neither and is not one of those witnesses," they added

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