Boris Johnson wants to forget about partygate, but will Parliament let him? | Politics News
Did Boris Johnson intentionally mislead Parliament about what he knew – and when – about the rule-breaking events in Number 10? The Privileges Committee maintains it is “very likely” that he did.
Wednesday appearance before the privileges committee was presented as judgment day for the former Prime Minister, with all the danger that entailed. Instead, after months of collecting evidence and witness testimony, there was no hard evidence.
That’s not to say it wasn’t uncomfortable, awkward and at times terse as Mr Johnson endured more than three-and-a-half hours of hostile cross-examination by a group of interbank MPs.
The former prime minister insisted he did not intentionally or recklessly mislead parliament when he told MPs guidelines and rules were followed at all times in Number 10, no not once but twice in December 2021.
At the heart of his defense was the argument that while guidelines were sometimes broken, in the round officials were trying to stick to principles, even when social distancing was not “perfectly adhered to”, and that he relied on the advice of his officials.
But there were tough times, no doubt, as the prime minister sometimes got temperamental during cross-examination.
Boris Johnson hearing – latest: Johnson offers ‘hand over heart’ defense during spirited celebratory session
Sir Bernard Jenkin, who quizzed Mr Johnson on Lee Cain’s asocial departure in Number 10, was told by the former leader such a gathering was ‘essential for professional purposes’.
The top Tory hit back that the former Prime Minister was asked during his press conference if ‘it was acceptable for organizations to hold farewell rallies without social distancing in the workplace’ – he was asked what he would have said.
Mr Johnson stammered something about how they should decide how they were going to implement the guidelines: even non-cynics would probably say that answer was implausible.
And what about the “BYOB” – Bring Your Own Booze – Number 10 garden party in May 2020? Again Mr Johnson insisted it was a business event to thank the staff (many of whom were fined). Why then was Lee Cain, its communications director at the time, concerned with “optics, not rules”?
“I think he was concerned about the impression people might get if they looked over the garden wall, if they came from the media room and thought we were doing something that other people don’t. ‘were not allowed to do,’ Mr Johnson said.
“I can see why people may have felt that way. But as I said in the House when I came to report on this event, I still believe it in the guidelines and in the rules.”
It may not pass the ‘head over the garden wall’ test, but in Mr Johnson’s version of life at Number 10, non-social distancing farewell gatherings were allowed at the work – a memo that the rest of the country did not receive.
What these examples show is the disbelief of MPs who questioned the former Prime Minister over what they clearly believed to be obvious breaches he had seen with his own eyes – and the resolute assertion of Ms. Johnson that everything he laid eyes on was within the rules.
And what he didn’t see? Well, he relied on key personnel to let him know if events were in order.
The former leader is a little taken aback on this, with evidence from three of his closest advisers – his then director of communications, his cabinet secretary and his principal private secretary – stating that they don’t did not give assurance that all guidelines and rules were followed at all. time.
And on that, the outstanding question is why the former Prime Minister did not come to the Commons to put things right sooner. His response seemed to be that, in turn, he believed the advice had been followed as far as possible – and even when President Harriet Harman asked him if he wanted to correct the record and acknowledge that the advice was not followed at all times, he refused to budge. .
“My view remains that the guidelines allowed for social distancing not to be carried out with the rigid precision of a drill sergeant, especially in difficult circumstances, such as those in which we operate, provided you had mitigations available.”
No smoking guns, and both sides stick to their guns.
At one point in the hearing, Conservative committee member Sir Bernard Jenkin said: ‘I don’t think we agree with your interpretation of the guidelines.
Boris Johnson says No 10’s departure was ‘absolutely essential for professional purposes’
Boris Johnson’s Privileges Committee grills: What if he finds he misled MPs?
Ms Harman was incredulous that the former Prime Minister relied on staff assurances about the rules, when he had seen the events with his own eyes.
“I mean, if I was going 100 miles an hour and I saw the speedometer say 100 miles an hour, that would be a little weird, wouldn’t it, if I said, somebody ‘someone assured me that I wasn’t?”
Click to subscribe to Sky News Daily wherever you get your podcasts
Questions then: Was Mr Johnson diligent enough to seek assurances? Did he correct the record when it appeared that the rules and advice had not been followed? Or did he intentionally mislead Parliament?
The committee must now deliberate what to do next, and we are unlikely to know for weeks whether Mr Johnson will be censured.
At worst, he could be suspended for at least 10 days, allowing voters in his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip to hold a ‘reminder petition’ and seek to trigger a by-election – a nuclear option that would provoke real turmoil among the Conservatives. benches.
It’s not just Mr Johnson who wants to put the whole sad affair behind him – it’s also the current Prime Minister. What is still unclear is whether Parliament will let them.