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Boris Johnson 'deliberately misled' MPs on whether No. 10 broke Covid-19 rules, committee finds

The Privileges Committee found: “His own knowledge was such that he deliberately misled the House and this committee.”

LAST UPDATE | 15 Jun 2023

FORMER BRITISH PRIME Minister Boris Johnson committed “repeated contempts” of Parliament by deliberately misleading MPs with his partygate denials before being complicit in a campaign of abuse and intimidation, a cross-party investigation has found.

Branding him the first former prime minister to have ever lied to the House of Commons, the Privileges Committee said the offences merited a 90-day suspension which would have paved the way for a by-election if he had not quit in anticipation.

His resignation means he will escape that punishment but the committee recommended that he should not receive the pass granting access to Parliament which is normally given to former MPs.

 Johnson was furious at what he called a “deranged conclusion”, accusing the Tory-majority group of MPs led by Labour veteran Harriet Harman, who he has repeatedly sought to disparage, of lying.

The former Conservative leader called the committee “beneath contempt” and claimed its 14-month investigation had delivered “what is intended to be the final knife-thrust in a protracted political assassination”.

Now Rishi Sunak faces the bitter infighting in the Tory party again erupting on Monday when MPs will be asked to approve the report, as Downing Street said it was wrong to “traduce” the “properly constituted committee”.

The committee found Johnson guilty of a “serious contempt” for “deliberately misleading” MPs by insisting all rules had been followed in Downing Street despite lockdown-breaching parties.

The MPs had provisionally agreed a suspension long enough to potentially trigger a by-election in Johnson’s Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency before he resigned in protest at the findings, attacking the committee as a “kangaroo court”.

But they said he committed further contempts by undermining the democratic processes of the Commons and being “complicit in the campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the committee”.

It said in the report: “We came to the view that some of Mr Johnson’s denials and explanations were so disingenuous that they were by their very nature deliberate attempts to mislead the committee and the House, while others demonstrated deliberation because of the frequency with which he closed his mind to the truth.”

It found he also breached confidentiality requirements in his resignation statement by criticising the committee’s provisional findings.

“Mr Johnson’s conduct in making this statement is in itself a very serious contempt,” the report said.

The report

Johnson misled the Commons in five different ways, the Privileges Committee found.

In its report, the committee said the former prime minister had misled the Commons by:

  • Claiming Covid rules and guidance were followed at all times in Number 10 on four separate occasions,
  • Failing to tell the House “about his own knowledge of the gatherings where the rules or guidance had been broken”,
  • Saying he relied on “repeated reassurances” that rules had not been broken,
  • Insisting on waiting for Sue Gray’s report to be published before he could answer questions in the House, when he had “personal knowledge which he did not reveal”,
  • And by claiming that rules and guidance had been followed while he was present at gatherings in Number 10 when he “purported to correct the record” in May 2022.

The committee also found Johnson had been “disingenuous” when giving evidence to them in “ways which amount to misleading”.

The Privileges Committee considered whether it should have recommended expelling Johnson from the House of Commons if he had remained as an MP.

Attacking the committee’s findings, Johnson said: “This is rubbish. It is a lie.

“This is a dreadful day for MPs and for democracy.”

The committee, comprised of four Tories, two Labour MPs, and one from the SNP, found many aspects of his defence were “not credible”, allowing them to conclude he “intended to mislead” MPs.

They dismissed Johnson’s argument that mid-pandemic staff leaving dos were essential to maintain staff morale, noting they attracted police fines while the rules would have been clear to him.

“A workplace ‘thank you’, leaving drink, birthday celebration or motivational event is obviously neither essential or reasonably necessary,” the MPs wrote.

“That belief, which he continues to assert, has no reasonable basis in the rules or on the facts.”

They criticised his persistence in arguing a “unsustainable interpretation” of the rules to argue events were permissible as being “disingenuous and a retrospective contrivance to mislead”.

The committee said his public criticism was a “cynical attempt to manipulate” the opinions of MPs and the public.

They found it highly unlikely as the “most prominent public promoter” of Covid rules that he could have “genuinely believed” his partygate denials.

The committee said his resignation last Friday means it is “impossible” for the recommended suspension to be imposed.

Challenge for Sunak

It far exceeded the 10-day threshold which, if approved, could have led to a recall petition in the west London constituency.

But the vote on the committee’s findings set for Monday by Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt presents a major challenge for the Prime Minister’s bid to soothe the bitter divides in the Tory party that have only been entrenched by his public row with Johnson.

His arch-ally Nadine Dorries claimed the report had “overreached” and said that any Tory MP who votes to approve it is “fundamentally not a Conservative” and should be deselected.

Tory MPs are not expected to be whipped into taking a position in the vote that will take place on Johnson’s 59th birthday – three years on from the celebration in No 10 that led to him being fined by police for breaching coronavirus laws.

Johnson’s most vocal defenders will face scrutiny themselves as the Privileges Committee said it will publish a special report into attempts to undermine its work.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the report shows Johnson is “not only a law-breaker but a liar”, saying he is behaving “like a toddler that’s thrown his toys out of the pram because he’s been caught and he doesn’t like it”.

“That committee worked diligently, compiled their report, came with the findings, and it’s now time to accept that report and move on,” she added.

Sunak’s official spokesman also defended the “properly constituted committee carrying out work at the behest of Parliament”.

“It would not be right to traduce or criticise the work of the committee,” he added.

The official brushed off a Liberal Democrats call for Johnson to be stripped of the £115,000 annual allowance available to former prime ministers to run their office.

Deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “This damning report should be the final nail in the coffin for Boris Johnson’s political career.

“Rishi Sunak must cut off Johnson’s ex-prime minister allowance to stop him milking the public purse for his own personal gain.

“Anything less would be an insult to bereaved families who suffered while Boris Johnson lied and partied.”

The committee had considered whether it should have recommended expelling Johnson from the Commons.

During discussion of the report’s final findings, the SNP’s Allan Dorans and Labour’s Yvonne Fovargue backed the stronger sanction.

But the amendment was opposed by the Conservative members: Charles Walker, Andy Carter, Alberto Costa and Bernard Jenkin, whom Johnson has urged to resign from the committee over his own alleged rule-breach.

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