Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has launched a fight to save his political career at a hearing into “Partygate,” one of the scandals that brought his government down last year.
Johnson, flanked by lawyers in a packed committee room, began a four-hour grilling at the hands of members of parliament (MPs) on the Privileges Committee on Tuesday afternoon.
His premiership collapsed in 2022 after it emerged that dozens of social gatherings took place on his watch – some of which he personally attended – at a time when Britons were banned from seeing their loved ones due to Covid-19.
Johnson has admitted misleading Parliament over the existence of those parties, but claims he did so unknowingly.
But the parliamentary inquiry into whether he intentionally lied in Parliament has the potential to imperil his career; if the committee recommends a lengthy suspension from Parliament, he could be forced to fight a by-election in his tightly-fought constituency.
“I’m here to say to you, hand on heart, that I did not lie to the House,” Johnson said during his opening statement on Wednesday. He attacked the testimony of his former top adviser turned political foe, Dominic Cummings, saying “he has every motive to lie.”
And he claimed it was “nonsense” to rely on photographs showing Johnson at leaving drinks, claiming they showed socially distanced gatherings for which he was not fined by police.
Central to Johnson’s denial is his rebuttal of the committee’s suggestion that it would have been plain to the former prime minister that the guidelines and rules he created were being ignored.
The committee’s most recent report on the investigation says that the evidence “strongly suggests that breaches of guidance would have been obvious to Mr. Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings.”
London’s Metropolitan Police issued more than 100 fines to people who worked in Downing Street for breaches of pandemic regulations at times the country was under varying degrees of lockdown.
Johnson received one himself, for attending a gathering where he was presented with a birthday cake; his then-Chancellor, subsequently political rival and current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, was also fined.
Johnson reminded the committee of that fact in a reference to Sunak that will have been unwelcome inside Downing Street, suggesting that if it were obvious to Johnson that rules were being broken, “it must have been obvious to others in the building, including the current Prime Minister.”
A separate investigation by civil servant Sue Gray last year found that “the senior leadership at the centre” of Johnson’s administration “must bear responsibility” for a culture that allowed the parties to take place.
She added there is “no excuse for some of the behaviour” she investigated, which included “excessive alcohol consumption.” Logs of email exchanges were also featured, including some where staff openly discussed hiding their partying from the media.
The report probed 16 events that took place while the UK was living under strict Covid-19 restrictions.
This is a developing story that will be updated…