Former British prime minister Boris Johnson has denied allegations that he deliberately misled parliament over rule-breaking parties during Covid lockdowns, publishing evidence ahead of a highly anticipated hearing that he insisted showed he acted “in good faith”.
“I did not intentionally or recklessly mislead the House [of Commons]” on December 1st or December 8th, 2021, or on any other date, Mr Johnson said in his submission to a parliamentary committee. “I would never have dreamed of doing so.”
“I accept that the House of Commons was misled by my statements,” Mr Johnson said. “But when the statements were made, they were made in good faith.”
The so-called partygate scandal led to Mr Johnson becoming the first prime minister in British history to be found to have broken the law while in office. Revelations of alcohol-fueled gatherings in Downing Street during 2020 and 2021 eroded trust and contributed to his downfall as premier last summer. Now Mr Johnson faces an inquiry into whether he misled parliament.
In a 52-page legal submission to parliament’s privileges committee, published on Tuesday, Mr Johnson conceded that he had made inaccurate statements in the House of Commons, but said he had corrected the record at the earliest available opportunity.
“It is important to be frank: this amounts to an allegation that I deliberately lied to Parliament,” Johnson said. “But it is also an allegation that extends to many others. If it was ‘obvious’ to me that the Rules and Guidance were not being followed, it would have been equally obvious to dozens of others who also attended the gatherings I did.”
Mr Johnson pointed to the fact that Downing Street’s official photographer was invited to some of the events as evidence that it was not “obvious” that gatherings broke rules.
Rejecting suggestions that social distancing regulations were widely flouted, he noted that Downing Street staff worked 18-hour days during the pandemic in No 10, which he described as “an old, cramped London town house, with many bottlenecks, and many small rooms”.
Mr Johnson will speak in his own defence during a four-hour televised appearance before the privileges committee on Wednesday. If he is found in contempt of parliament he could be suspended from the House of Commons. Any suspension longer than 10 days could prompt a recall byelection in his constituency.
In his submission, Mr Johnson accused the committee of trying “unilaterally to expand its mandate” by deciding that it was only necessary to prove that Mr Johnson “recklessly” misled parliament, rather than “deliberately,” which has been the norm since 1963.
An initial report published earlier this month suggested Mr Johnson may have misled parliament multiple times, saying that evidence “strongly suggests that breaches of guidance would have been obvious to Mr Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings”. Mr Johnson strenuously denied this was the case.
In one part of the document, Mr Johnson expressed anger and confusion at why the police decided to charge him for an event on his birthday in June 2020.
“We had a sandwich lunch together and they wished me happy birthday. I was not told in advance that this would happen. No cake was eaten, and no one even sang ‘happy birthday’,” Mr Johnson lamented.
In a passage which is likely to form part of his defence on Wednesday, Mr Johnson insisted he was never warned that a 2020 gathering in the Downing Street garden might breach lockdown rules, and said he wished “in retrospect” he had considered how such events could be perceived. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” he said. – Bloomberg