Boris Johnson tells lockdown party hearing ‘I didn’t lie’

LONDON: Boris Johnson says ‘hand on heart’ he didn’t lie to Parliament for breaking rules COVID-19 lockdown parties as the former UK prime minister fought for his political career during a hearing with lawmakers on Wednesday.
Parliament’s Privileges Committee is investigating whether Johnson, who was ousted from Downing Street in September, intentionally or recklessly misled the House of Commons in a series of statements about the rallies.
If the committee finds that Johnson deliberately misled lawmakers, then he could be suspended. Any suspension of more than 10 days could trigger an election to remove him from his parliamentary seat and end his political career.
The former leader, who was considering a bold bid for a second term as prime minister last year, launched a lengthy defense at the hearing, saying statements he made in parliament were made out of sincerity.
“I’m here to tell you, hand on heart, that I didn’t lie to the House,” said a defiant Johnson, who accused the committee of bias. “When these 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 ultimate downfall, after months of reports that he, alongside other senior government officials, had been present at alcohol-fueled rallies in Downing Street in 2020 and 2021, when much of the rest of Britain was forced to stay at home.
Britain had one of the highest coronavirus death rates in the world with more than 175,000 dead by the time Johnson announced he would step down as prime minister.
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 to break the law while in office.
The outcry and repeated allegations of lying about parties and allegations that a Tory lawmaker groped two men while inebriated eventually prompted the resignation of most of his top team, including the current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.
Harriet Harman, chair of the committee, stressed the importance of ministers telling the truth, saying it went to the heart of how the UK parliamentary system works.
At the start of the hearing, Johnson was made to take an oath to tell the truth on a Bible before testifying.
He said the inquiry had found no evidence he deliberately misled parliament and said the committee had banned him from publishing a ‘large number of extracts’ on which he had relied to his defence.
Asked about the events in May and November 2020 when he was photographed talking to drinking colleagues, Johnson said he felt his presence was necessary to thank staff for their hard work during the pandemic.
“People who say we were partying in lockdown just don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said, irritated.
Earlier on Wednesday, the committee released 110 pages of evidence, showing some Downing Street officials said Johnson must have known parties had taken place despite his denials.
In this evidence, the Cabinet Secretary Case Simon said he had never given Johnson any assurances that COVID rules had been followed in Downing Street – nor did he know of any officials who had.
Another Downing Street aide said Johnson had the option of ‘closing down’ the parties, but instead joined in making speeches and drinking with staff.
“I didn’t think these events were a problem. No one had brought them up with me before as things I should be worried about,” Johnson said. “Call me obtuse or reckless, but they didn’t strike me as being against the rules.”


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