The former prime minister faced a grilling by the parliamentary committee investigating whether he misled MPs over Partygate. Could it be the end of his political career?
Boris Johnson – the man who delivered a whopping majority for the Conservative Party in December 2019 – has defended himself over claims he misled parliament about rule-breaking parties during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I swear by almighty God that the evidence I shall give before this committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So, help me God.”Boris Johnson (BBC News)
Parliament’s Committee for Privileges and Conduct will now determine whether the former prime minister intentionally or recklessly misled fellow MPs in a series of statements that he made about parties in Downing Street when the British public was forced to stay indoors.
The scandal has forced Mr Johnson to concede that he misled MPs over a number of parties held at Number 10 in breach of Covid rules and guidance. But, he claims, he did not do this intentionally.
“There were a number of, er, days over a period over 20 months when gatherings took place in Downing Street that went past the point where they could be said to be necessary for work purposes. That was wrong, I bitterly regret it, I understand public anger and I continue to apologise for what happened on my watch and I take full responsibility.”Boris Johnson (BBC News)
Mr Johnson told the committee that if he had broken the rules, then other people would have known it too, including the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak, who was also fined for breaking the government’s own rules on lockdown gatherings.
In a moment of particular high drama, the committee’s proceedings were adjourned so that Boris Johnson could vote against the prime minister’s new deal on post-Brexit trade arrangements in Northern Ireland.
Boris Johnson: “It must have been obvious to others in the building, including the current prime minister.”
Harriet Harman: “Order, order. We will now suspend the sitting whilst the House of Commons votes and we will reconvene in 15 minutes.”
Boris Johnson: “Thank you.”BBC News
During his three-and-a-half-hour appearance in front of the committee Boris Johnson at times came across as belligerent and combative.
He took on fellow Conservative MPs – including Bernard Jenkin – over whether the lockdown gatherings, with alcohol and little social distancing, had been “necessary” for work purposes.
Bernard Jenkin: “You’re giving very long answers, and it’s taking longer than we need. And you’re repeating yourself quite a lot. Can we just get on with the questions? Thank you very much.BBC News
Boris Johnson: I think it’s unlikely that I said that, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t say things about social distancing.
Bernard Jenkin: Ok, thank you. You’ve answered the question.BBC News
Bernard Jenkin: What sort of observations?
Boris Johnson: I might well have made observations about the importance of social distancing, since it was very much on our minds.
Bernard Jenkin: Ok.BBC News
Mr Johnson’s supporters in the Conservative Party were quick to defend him. Former cabinet ministers Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg both accused the committee of conducting a political witch hunt.
Labour’s Jim McMahon, was keen to remind people what they were doing as Mr Johnson attended parties in Downing Street.
“For me this can’t be viewed for how we feel today, how we live our lives today. We’re free today. We can see our friends and family today. We can socialise today. If we have loved ones in care homes, we can see them today. That wasn’t what was happening when Boris Johnson was breaking the rules and holding them parties in Downing Street.”Jim McMahon (Sky News)
The reality is that Boris Johnson is in a difficult place. He could face a serious sanction if it is found that he intentionally or recklessly misled parliament.
So, could it be the end of the road for his political career?
Boris Johnson was forced from office by his fellow Conservative MPs in 2022, following a number of damaging scandals.
If he is found to have deliberately misled his colleagues he could be suspended from the commons for ten days, This would trigger a by-election which he could lose.
Mr Johnson’s appearance before the Committee for Privileges and Conduct comes at a crucial time for the Tories.
Boris Johnson’s arch-rival – Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – has managed to make inroads into Labour’s sizeable lead in the polls. The opportunity for Mr Johnson to make a come-back to the top tier of politics is narrowing.
Here’s Tortoise’s political editor, Cat Neilan:
“I think what we saw over the course of a day in Westminster where he was up against the Privileges committee – but not just then, in other things that were happening in and around Westminster at the time – I think we saw if not the end, then the beginning of the end of his ambitions to return as prime minister.”The News Meeting, Tortoise Media
Mr Johnson’s fate lies with the Privileges Committee. It won’t report for a number of weeks.
This episode was written by Rhys James and mixed by Tomini Babs.