Former British Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave evidence over 3 hours on Wednesday in the Grimond Room at Porticulus House, a parliamentary annex in London, to avoid being condemned by his peers and thrown out of the House of Commons for his partying during the Covid, at 10 Downing St.
There he was seen in photos firing his head of communications, drinking wine and with many people around in full restrictions of the epidemic. “With my hand on my heart, I do not lie to the House,” said Boris, who can be expelled from Parliament if found guilty. He before he swore on the Bible. But he apologized “for what happened on my watch.”
It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of Boris Johnson’s parliamentary career rests in the hands of seven of his colleagues on the privileges committee.
It was not just this panel of MPs that questioned the former prime minister on Wednesday about whether he knowingly misled Parliament about the Downing Street parties. Then they will also spend weeks deliberating whether his conduct amounted to contempt of the House of Commons and, if so, what punishment to recommend to MPs.
One of the videos, from June 19, 2020. Photo AFP
The fear of conservatives
Crucially, if Johnson is suspended as an MP for ten days or more, his constituents in Uxbridge and South Ruislip will have the chance to trigger a by-election. A serious problem for the conservative party, which may lose them.
The seven MPs, who are told to put partisan loyalties aside as they go about their jobs, span different parties, generations and backgrounds.
Boris was accompanied by his legal team at his presentation. The Committee on Privileges analyzed the evidence for months to find out whether or not Boris lied to Parliament about it. After the 3-hour session, he concluded that he would ask for more written evidence and that Boris’s evidence was “flimsy.”
Johnson angrily denounced the privileges committee’s cross-examination as “utter nonsense” as the hearing entered its third hour.
The former prime minister became visibly exasperated during questioning by Sir Bernard Jenkin, a Conservative MP, about why he did not seek assurances from anyone beyond his communications advisers that Covid rules had been followed.
On November 13, 2020, and another video of a party. AFP photo
Jenkin told Johnson: “I have to say that if I was accused of breaking the law and had to compromise with the House of Commons, of all places, that I had not broken the law, I would want the advice of a lawyer.”
Johnson said he had asked Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, for his opinion when commissioning an inquiry. He added louder: “This is nonsense. I mean, complete nonsense. I asked the relevant people and they were high level people.”
Parties in full Covid
The former prime minister argued before the committee that leaving drinks at 10 Downing St for his outgoing communications director in November 2020 was “essential” because it could have been a “potentially bitter” time. “It was important for me to be there and give peace of mind,” he said.
Jenkin told him that the coronavirus guidance doesn’t “say you can have a thank you party.”
Johnson is fighting for his political career when he appeared before MPs accused of deliberately misleading parliament.
Boris said the committee had found “nothing to show” that he had been warned about illegal parties during the coronavirus lockdowns. He said Dominic Cummings, the former adviser to his who claims he told her an event was illegal, “has every reason to lie.”
In its preliminary report on March 3, the Privileges Committee said evidence strongly suggested breaches of the rules would have been “obvious” to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his parties in Downing St, when everyone was in lockdown. by covid.
They identified four areas in which the House of Commons may have been misled:
1. When the former PM said no rules or guidelines were broken on December 8, 2021.
2. When he didn’t tell the Commons about his own knowledge of the meetings.
3. When he said he was relying on assurances that the rules had not been broken, when he had received no such assurances and should have personal knowledge, which was not the case.
4. When he gave MPs the impression that the investigation of Sue Gray, the civil servant who investigated him to establish whether there had been any rule-breaking, was needed, given that she had personal knowledge that she did not disclose.
This is all really complicated for former Prime Minister Johnson. If he did not intend to mislead the House of Commons, why did he not knowingly correct his statement of December 1, 2021, in which he said that “all guidance was fully followed at 10 Downing St” ?
Prior to Question Time to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on December 7 of that year, he was told by his principal private secretary that he should remove the claim that “all instructions were followed” from his statement because it was not “realistic”.
Johnson says that while he accepts that he misled the House of Commons, it was not “intentional or reckless”.
He acknowledges that social distancing was not always possible due to the “crowded” nature of the Downing Street building. The Prime Minister lives there with his family, works and is his official home. Other state employees and passing ministers also work.
But it raises the question of why official photographers would have been invited to some of the meetings, if it was “obvious” that the rules were being broken.
Johnson said his “honest and reasonable belief” guidance was not violated and he relied on the advice of officials.
But the package of evidence released by the committee shows that the advisers had concerns.
In fact, Martin Reynolds, his main private secretary at the time, told him to remove a line from his statement about tracking guidance, which he later said in the House of Commons anyway.
However, Johnson argues that he corrected the record at the first possible opportunity. He rejects the idea that he could have said more before the report from Sue Gray, a civil servant tasked with investigating him, who is now Labor’s chief of staff: “It was neither fair nor appropriate to give a half-assed report.”
For the committee to conclude that his remarks did not amount to contempt of parliament, they will need to be satisfied not only that Boris Johnson did not intentionally mislead the House, but also that he corrected the record at the first opportunity.
As it is, they seem like big hurdles for Johnson to overcome.