The former prime minister has accepted that he misled parliament about COVID-19 rules at 10 meetings in Downing Street during the lockdown, but denied doing so ‘intentionally or recklessly’.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denied lying to the British Parliament in a televised statement as part of an investigation into the so-called “Partygate” scandal.
After taking an oath on the Bible, Johnson told a parliamentary standards committee that everything he told lawmakers in relation to the meetings held at 10 Downing Street during the COVID-19 pandemic was done “in good faith and based on what I sincerely believed at the time”.
“Hand on heart… I have not lied to the House,” he said.
“People saying we were partying in lockdown just don’t know what they’re talking about,” Johnson added, insisting they should have been seen as workplace meetings.
His anger flared in response to questions from Sir Bernard Jenkin, the senior Tory MP, who suggested he had not sufficiently verified the allegations before denying any breach of conduct.
He accused the committee members of “complete nonsense” and reiterated his claim that the meetings were “absolutely essential to the work”.
The ex-Conservative leader, who nearly died of COVID, is accused of knowing that the rallies had violated lockdown legislation he introduced on multiple occasions.
At the time, he assured Parliament that the guidelines were being followed.
“I apologize for inadvertently misleading the House,” he said. “But to say I did it recklessly or intentionally is not true at all.”
If it turns out he lied, Johnson could be suspended by parliament. If the full House agrees to an adjournment of more than 10 days, it could trigger a special election for his North West London seat if enough voters demand it.
While accepting that “perfect” social distancing was not always adhered to, Johnson argued that Downing Street had put in place appropriate measures where six-foot social distancing was possible.
“It was always the case that we understood that the number 10 boundaries would make it impossible to enforce total social distancing all the time, as it were with an electric force field around each individual,” he told the committee.
On Tuesday, he released a 52-page dossier in which he explained that he believed he was being truthful when he repeatedly told Parliament that all regulations were being respected.
In retrospect, he admitted that he had “misled” lawmakers based on assurances from top employees that the rules were followed.
“Nobody told me after any of these events that they were against the rules or guidelines, or more importantly, that they should have been allowed to continue in a way that violated the rules or guidelines,” Johnson said.
Hours before Wednesday’s hearing, however, the parliamentary committee released a larger 110-page bundle of evidence.
It featured a Downing Street official stating that Johnson “frequently saw and participated in meetings in the complex” during lockdowns, and that “he had the opportunity to shut them down”.
“He could see what was happening and let the culture continue,” the official added.
The evidence also showed that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, the UK’s most senior civil servant, denied ever assuring Johnson that COVID rules were being followed at all times.
Johnson was fined by the police for one meeting, along with Sunak, his then finance minister. Dozens of other employees were also fined.
The former leader apologized last May and corrected the parliamentary record, having previously insisted that the meetings were overboard.
Campaign group COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK said his claim that he had issued his “Partygate” denials “in good faith” was “sickening”.