5 things we learned from Boris Johnson’s Partygate Marathon Grill – POLITICO
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LONDON — A highly charged grilling of Boris Johnson by the committee investigating whether he deliberately misled Parliament produced testy exchanges – but no hard evidence.
The cross-party committee of MPs reviewed Johnson’s statements in the House of Commons when the Partygate scandal broke, after it emerged he had given inaccurate accounts of events at 10 Downing Street during the COVID lockdown .
If they come out against Johnson, MPs could recommend a suspension from parliament – although any ban lasting more than 10 days will be subject to a vote in the House of Commons. A verdict will not come for at least three weeks.
The showdown is seen as pivotal to Johnson’s prospects for a political comeback, as any ban of more than 10 days would make him subject to a recall petition to trigger a by-election in his Uxbridge constituency.
Anyone logging into the committee expecting a killing blow would have been disappointed – but there was still plenty to ponder over the long and sometimes tense exchanges.
Here is a brief overview of what we learned from the parliamentary hearing which lasted almost three hours.
Boris Johnson doesn’t take this one lying down
The former prime minister showed up to the hearing accompanied by earnest and moving lawyers and laid out his key line within minutes.
“I’m here to tell you hand on heart that I didn’t lie at home,” Johnson said. “These statements were made in good faith and on the basis of what I believed at the time.”
Generally notorious for his lack of attention to detail, the former prime minister showed otherwise by sticking rigidly to his lines and making his case – in particular, that all the statements he made in parliament around of Partygate were made based on advice he received at the time and that he did not believe gatherings amid the lockdown on government property had breached guidelines or rules.
He even largely avoided references to Greek mythology, wordy language, or the gaffes he’s known for. Johnson really wants to win this one.
sorry, not sorry
Only twice has Johnson offered anything approaching contrition – a sign of how he feels about the whole affair.
In his opening statement, the former prime minister apologized, of sorts. But at the same time he laid out his clear argument that he does not believe the committee’s line of inquiry into whether he misled Parliament “intentionally or recklessly”.
“I apologize for inadvertently misleading this house. But to say I did so recklessly or deliberately is completely untrue, as the evidence shows,” Johnson said.
Later, when told he could have offered his current defense at the time he made those contentious statements in the Commons, Johnson understood their point.
“Maybe if I had elucidated more clearly what I meant and what I thought about following the advice, that would have helped,” Johnson said. That was as close as he would get to any admission of wrongdoing.
Rely on officials
Drink if you had “Jack Doyle” in your privileges committee bingo card.
The former director of communications for Johnson’s No. 10 administration was constantly present at the hearing, alongside the former prime minister’s other main press secretary, James Slack.
Johnson’s reliance on their advice – rather than his own eyes – ahead of his December 2021 statements to Parliament on parties is a key part of the investigation.
He told the committee he had been assured that ‘all guidelines were followed completely in No 10’ and that ‘there was no partying and no COVID rules were broken’ – were made as a result of conversations with the two men at the time.
Whether the committee believes that notice was sufficient for Johnson to make these statements could be critical when deciding whether the former prime minister intended to mislead. During the hearing, some struggled to understand why he had relied on the advice of his advisers when he had witnessed many events himself.
President Harriet Harman said: ‘If I was going 100mph and I saw the speedometer say 100mph, it would be a little strange wouldn’t it, if I said someone told me sure I wasn’t – because that’s what you’ve seen with your own eyes?” she asked.
Johnson still doesn’t believe he did anything wrong
After an investigation by Met Police and a report by senior civil servant – turned labor adviser-to-be – Sue Gray, the privileges committee hearing was not intended to question the rights and wrongs of Partygate.
But the former prime minister did not receive the memo.
He devoted part of his opening statement to saying he didn’t deserve the only fine he received, for a rally at 10 Downing Street on his birthday in June 2020.
During the impromptu departure of drinks organized for departing staff members in November 2020, Johnson also directly defended his presence – and his rambling speeches – at these events.
“To this day, I struggle to see how I could have led No. 10, led hundreds of officials who needed to be thanked and appreciated for their efforts under very trying circumstances, without having brief events of d goodbye…who didn’t fall foul of the rules,” Johnson said.
Committee members disagreed. They explained to Johnson that other workplaces across the UK were unable to thank staff with drinks in person during the pandemic.
“I don’t think we agree with your interpretation of the guidelines,” curator Bernard Jenkin said.
“Can you please let me finish my question?” Harman was forced to ask several times, due to interruptions from the former prime minister.
Although Johnson disavowed comments from his allies describing the committee as a “kangaroo court,” he also did not commit to accepting the committee’s findings.
It would be “unfair” and “wrong” if the committee ruled against him, Johnson said.
His most heated exchange came with senior MP Jenkin, who explained to Johnson that he “didn’t take proper advice” – regarding his reliance on Doyle and Slack’s assurances – before making those critical statements to the Parliament in December 2020.
“That’s nonsense – I mean, complete nonsense,” an angry Johnson exclaimed. “I asked the people concerned. They were old people!
His latest assertion that he “very much enjoyed” his discussion with the committee was met with laughter.