U.K. ex-PM Boris Johnson to be grilled over partygate scandal

In his own written evidence published, Boris Johnson admitted he did mislead MPs over partygate but in good faith

March 22, 2023 06:27 pm | Updated 06:27 pm IST - London

People protest against former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in London, Britain, March 22, 2023. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

People protest against former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in London, Britain, March 22, 2023. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls | Photo Credit: Henry Nicholls

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson will be grilled by a cross-party parliamentary panel for several hours on March 22 to establish whether he knowingly misled the House of Commons over the partygate scandal of COVID law-breaking parties at Downing Street.

The House of Commons Privileges Committee has published a fresh bundle of evidence, including photographs and statements from Mr. Johnson’s close aides at the time, ahead of the oral evidence session.

The seven-member committee, which scrutinises members of Parliament, said it was publishing the material for the benefit of those following the oral evidence session.

“The documents comprise the evidence and materials that will be referred to in the course of oral questioning by MPs,” it said, adding that much of the material has already been previously published.

Among the documents is the written evidence of Martin Reynolds, the former principal private secretary to Mr. Johnson when he was Prime Minister, who claims he questioned whether it was "realistic" to make the claim in Parliament that all COVID guidance was followed.

Also Read | U.K. ‘partygate’ report slams ‘failures of leadership’

Mr. Reynolds said Mr. Johnson agreed to delete the reference to the guidance but then went on to tell the Commons the following day that "the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times".

In his own written evidence published on Tuesday, the 58-year-old former Prime Minister admitted he did mislead MPs over partygate but in good faith.

“I accept that the House of Commons was misled by my statements that the Rules and Guidance had been followed completely at No. 10,” reads his evidence.

“But when the statements were made, they were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time. I did not intentionally or recklessly mislead the House on 1 December 2021, 8 December 2021, or any other date. I would never have dreamed of doing so,” he said.

The former prime minister, whose exit from 10 Downing Street last year had been hastened by the partygate scandal, repeatedly denied COVID lockdown rules were broken within government quarters when asked in the Commons.

The 58-year-old backbench Tory MP has since tried to discredit the Privileges Committee's interim report, describing it as "highly partisan" and going "significantly beyond its terms of reference".

His oral evidence coincides with a vote in Parliament over his successor, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Windsor Framework to secure a fresh post-Brexit pact with the European Union (EU) over the rules governing the U.K. territory of Northern Ireland and neighbouring EU member-state Ireland.

Both Mr. Johnson and Liz Truss, who briefly succeeded him as Prime Minister last year, have said they will vote against Mr. Sunak’s deal.

Downing Street said the Windsor Framework was proof that the U.K. has "taken back control", adding it was "the best deal for the people and businesses of Northern Ireland".

With the backing of the Opposition Labour Party assured, Mr. Sunak’s bill is expected to pass through the Commons without hiccups.

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