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A combative Boris Johnson came out swinging as he addressed a committee investigating whether he misled the Commons over parties at Downing Street during lockdown.
The former prime minister, in a bullish opening statement, claimed that after 10 months of investigations, the privileges committee had found “nothing” to prove that he was aware any of the gatherings that took place were illegal or breached the rules.
He said “hand on heart” that he did not lie to parliament and criticised the committee for not accepting his demands to publish all the evidence it had gathered. He said that the committee, as “investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury” had only published the evidence it had considered incriminating.
Here is a look at the key moments from the session so far.
‘Hand on heart I did not lie to the House’
Mr Johnson accepted that a number of gatherings took place in Downing Street over a 20-month period during the Covid pandemic that went past the point that they could be said to be necessary for work purposes.
Giving evidence to the committee, the former prime minister said he took “full responsibility” for what happened on his watch in Downing Street.
He added: “But as you have said chair, the purpose of this inquiry is not to reopen so-called Partygate.
“It is to discover whether or not I lied to Parliament, willingly misled colleagues and the country about what I knew and believed about those gatherings when I said the rules and the guidance had been followed at No 10.
He said that was wrong, he bitterly regretted it and that he understood public anger over the gatherings. “I continue to apologise and take full responsibility for what took place under my watch,” he added.
Johnson said “hand on heart that I did not lie to the House. When those statements were made they were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time”.
‘Party was to thank my staff’
Referring to the leaving dos he attended at No 10, Mr Johnson said: “I know that people around the country will look at those events and think that they look like the very kind of events that we, or I, were forbidding to everyone else.
“But I will believe until the day I die that it was my job to thank staff for what they had done, especially during a crisis like Covid, which kept coming back, which seemed to have no end and where people’s morale did, I’m afraid, begin to sink.
“But never mind what I think, the more important point is that the police agreed – they didn’t find that my attendance at any of these farewell gatherings was against the rules.”
Tory MP and committee member Sir Bernard Jenkin told Mr Johnson that the guidance “does not say …’you can have a thank you party… if you think it is very important’. The guidance does not say that”.
‘Photos prove nothing’
Mr Johnson called on the committee to publish all of its evidence “so that the public can judge for themselves”, whether he had misled Parliament.
He said the committee has refused to do this despite his repeated requests and added: “As investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury it has elected only to publish the evidence which it considers incriminating.”
The former PM said the committee’s argument was that he must have known rules weren’t followed because he was at some of the gatherings in question.
Referring to photos of himself at the gatherings, Mr Johnson said it was “nonsense” that they show him attending rule-breaking parties.
Mr Johnson said the photo did not show social distancing guidelines were not followed.
‘You’ve found no evidence’
Mr Johnson said that when the inquiry was set up, he was completely confident that it would find “nothing to show I knew or believed anything else. And indeed, you have not”.
Mr Johnson said he was confident, not because there was some sort of “cover-up”, but because he knew “that is what I believe and that is why I said it”.
He said that the evidence of the committee showed that, before the police investigation and the Sue Gray report, there was a “universal belief in No 10 that the rules and guidance were being complied with”.
“That is the general belief that has been uncovered by your evidence and it was that belief that governed what I said in the House”.
Correcting the record
Mr Johnson said that as soon as it was clear that he was wrong – and as soon as the Sue Gray investigation and Met Police investigation had concluded – “I came to the House of Commons and corrected the record as I promised I would”.
Mr Johnson went on to say “I clearly could not have anticipated the outcome by coming earlier because I genuinely did not know what the outcome would be and was deeply shocked when fines were issued”.
Mr Johnson noted that the committee had been investigating for 10 months and thanked them for their work, but added: “You’ve found nothing to show that I was warned in advance that events in No 10 were illegal. In fact, nothing to show that anyone raised anxieties with me about any event whether before or after it had taken place”.
‘Completely wrong’ to think I was partying during lockdown
Mr Johnson insisted it was “completely wrong” to say he partied during lockdown during a discussion over an image from Lee Cain’s leaving event.
Sir Bernard asked Mr Johnson whether his advice to other organisations during the coronavirus pandemic would have been that leaving dos were acceptable.
Referencing the image, Mr Johnson replied: “I understand that people looking at that photograph will think it looks like a social event.
“It was not a social event. If anybody thinks I was partying during lockdown, they are completely wrong. That was not a party.”
Questioned on whether he would have told other organisations, if asked at a government pandemic press conference, that they could hold “unsocially distanced farewell gatherings”, Mr Johnson said: “I would have said it is up to organisations, as the guidance says, to decide how they are going to implement the guidance amongst them.
“Where they can’t do social distancing perfectly, they can’t maintain two metres or one metre, they are entitled to have mitigations. And we did indeed have plenty of mitigations.”
Key points from Boris Johnson’s Partygate probe grilling
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