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Johnson leaving his house yesterday. Alamy Stock Photo
Partygate probe

Partygate: Johnson admits to misleading House of Commons 'in good faith'

The former Tory Prime Minister will appear before a cross-party panel tomorrow.

LAST UPDATE | 21 Mar 2023

FORMER UK PRIME Minister Boris Johnson has admitted to misleading the House of Commons when he said that Covid-19 rules had been followed in No 10 Downing Street during lockdown.

A written statement by Johnson to the Privileges Committee was published today, with the former prime minister conceding that he did mislead parliament, but he contends that his statements were made “in good faith”.

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

“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 December 1 2021, December 8 2021, or on any other date. I would never have dreamed of doing so.”

Johnson is due to be questioned by the Committee tomorrow afternoon.

He said that allegations that it was reckless of him to rely on assurances by his advisors that regulations were not being breached as “unprecedented and absurd”.

“I was the Prime Minister of the country, working day and night to manage the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was self-evidently reasonable for me to rely on assurances that I received from my advisers.”

The publication of Johnson’s evidence comes as Tory MPs will be granted a free vote on any sanctions against the former prime minister following the committee inquiry.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak indicated today that he would not instruct on how to vote on any potential sanctions against Johnson, telling BBC Breakfast.

“These are matters for Parliament and the House and MPs as individuals, rather than for Government. So that is the general process that we will follow.”

The Prime Minister declined to say whether he agreed with some of Johnson’s allies that the process was a “witch hunt”, telling the programme:

“That’s ultimately something for Boris Johnson and he’ll have the committee process to go through and that’s a matter for Parliament. That’s not what I’m focused on.”

Johnson was first asked to provide a written submission in July last year, but provided it 48 hours before his televised questioning by the committee this week. 

The committee confirmed it received the evidence, key to Johnson’s political future, at 2.32pm yesterday.

However, the Committee today clarified that the final document was not provided until 8.02am this morning, due to a number of “errors and typos” in the original document.

“Mr Johnson’s written submission contains no new documentary evidence,” a spokesperson for the Committee said.

If Johnson fails to convince the committee he did not deliberately mislead the UK Parliament, he could be found to have committed a contempt of Parliament and receive a suspension.

Such a move could ultimately end in a by-election.

An ally of the Conservative MP said his defence had been handed over on Monday “as planned”, adding: “The committee control the timing of publication. We encourage them to publish it as soon as possible.”

The defence is expected to take the form of a lengthy submission from Johnson’s barrister, David Pannick.

The hearing clashes with a key vote on Sunak’s new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, which DUP MPs plan to oppose.

An estimated £220,000 of taxpayers’ money has been allocated for Johnson’s legal bills.

If the committee rules that he did mislead the House, they will consider whether it was “reckless or intentional” and amounted to a contempt of Parliament.

An interim report by the committee earlier this month said evidence strongly suggested breaches of coronavirus rules would have been “obvious” to the then-prime minister.

But Johnson claimed it was “clear” he had not committed a contempt of Parliament, arguing there is “no evidence in the report that I knowingly or recklessly misled Parliament” or failed to update it in a timely manner.

Johnson has also sought to cast doubt on the findings of Sue Gray’s report on partygate, after she quit the Civil Service to take up a role in Labour leader Keir Starmer’s office.

The UK’s Privileges Committee is examining evidence around at least four occasions when Johnson may have misled MPs with his assurances to the Commons that lockdown rules were followed.

The committee will publish its findings on whether the former prime minister committed a contempt of Parliament and make a recommendation on any punishment, but the ultimate decision will fall to the full House of Commons.

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