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Boris Johnson Versus the Commons Privileges Committee. What Happened?

Almost three years after it began, the party-gate scandal that erupted in November 2021 reached a landmark yesterday with the long-awaited questioning of former PM Boris Johnson. 

The infamous chain of events began when a leaked videotape of a mock press conference showed Johnson’s staff joking over how to explain a non-socially-distanced gathering inside Number 10. The Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar began reporting allegations of gatherings in Downing Street the year prior, and thus the government quickly launched an enquiry despite the former PM reassuring parliament that no Covid rules had been breached.

Despite Johnson’s claims, scandal continued to unfurl in the months that followed, when a photograph was published by The Guardian showing him and his aides drinking wine in a garden during peak lockdown. Soon after, Johnson’s office had to apologise to the late Queen after it emerged that a party had been held on the night of Prince Philip’s funeral, despite indoor mixing being banned.

Just two weeks later, ITV News reported that over 30 people had attended a birthday event for the former PM in June 2020. The accusations continued, and by May 2022 police had given out 126 fines relating to eight separate events held at the Cabinet Office and Number 10. 

Now, three years after the parties were held, Johnson faced a grilling by the Commons Privileges Committee on Wednesday. During the 3-hour session, the former PM faced questions as to whether he intentionally misled lawmakers about the nature of the gatherings. The afternoon saw him repetitively decry accusations that he had partied during the Covid lockdown, maintaining that the boozy gatherings “were necessary as part of work morale in Number 10 during the pandemic,” according to the Evening Standard. 

As questioning continued, Chairwoman Harriet Harman argued that MPs were reasonable in their “dismay over flimsy reassurances” Johnson was giving about having adhered to lockdown regulations. Conservative Party politician Sir Bernard Jenkin also suggested that Johnson had not sought advice before telling MPs that no parties had taken place within the Cabinet Office. The former PM then accused the panel of “complete nonsense” and deemed Harman “prejudicial”, arguing it was “completely wrong” to claim he had partied during lockdown.

However, within Johnson’s written evidence to the Privileges Committee published on Tuesday, he claimed that previous statements given to the House had been incorrect, but were made “in good faith.” He argued that at the time he thought the gatherings were within government guidelines, and as such he did not willingly mislead Parliament. Whilst accepting that Covid regulations were not followed at all times in Number 10, Johnson insisted he would “never have dreamed” of intentionally lying. 

Within the 52-page document, Johnson also argues that the committee has "no evidence at all that supports the allegations" that he intentionally or recklessly misled the House. “There is not a single document that indicates that I received any warning or advice that any event broke or may have broken the rules or guidance,” he continues.

If found guilty of committing contempt of parliament, the former PM faces a range of sanctions including a suspension from the House of Commons, losing his seat, and ultimately the end of his political career.



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Tags: #Covid19 #BorisJohnson #UKPolitics #CommonsPrivilegesCommittee


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