BORIS Johnson yesterday tore into claims he misled the Commons as his Partygate hearing began, declaring: “Hand on my heart, I didn’t lie to the House.”
The former PM, who was fighting for his political career, insisted he was not trying to deceive MPs when he claimed no rules had been broken at No10 during lockdown.
Boris Johnson refuted claims he misled the Commons as his Partygate hearing began – pictured at the opening of the hearing
The former PM declared ‘Hand on my heart, I didn’t lie to the House’
He insisted he was not trying to deceive MPs when he claimed no rules had been broken at No10 during lockdown – the then PM with staff at event in Downing Street
Under fire for attending boozy parties while shutting down the country, Mr Johnson said it was “staggeringly implausible” that he would have allowed the events to be covered by an official photographer.
He accused the Commons Privileges Committee of having acted as “prosecutor, judge and jury” despite having “no evidence”.
Mr Johnson also admitted that it “boggled my mind” to have been fined — along with current PM Rishi Sunak — for going to an event to celebrate his birthday.
Mr Johnson began the long-awaited four-hour showdown with the panel of MPs by swearing on the Bible to tell the truth.
He began with a fresh apology for the scandal that helped bring him down, saying there were days over a 20-month period when the gatherings “went past the point where they could be said to be necessary for work purposes”.
He added: “That was wrong. I bitterly regret it.”
He said he was sorry for “inadvertently misleading this House” but added: “That I did it recklessly or deliberately is completely untrue.”
During a testy session, he reiterated claims that he was “repeatedly reassured” by his team that the No10 gatherings were within the rules.
He said that social distancing guidelines could not always be observed in cramped No10 Downing Street.
He added: “It was always the case the confines of No10 were going to make it impossible the whole time to enforce total social distancing — as it were with an electric force field around every individual.”
Mr Johnson stuck to his guns that meetings were work-related.
He told the MPs: “I thought we were working, I promise you that is what officials working in No10 thought as well.”
He suggested the scope of the probe has been unfairly expanded to investigate whether he lied out of recklessness rather than just outright deliberately.
Mr Johnson said: “It would be one thing if the committee had come here and said here are the emails or WhatsApps that show you were warned about rule-breaking before you made your statements to the House. You haven’t got any such evidence because that never happened.
“But if you now say instead that it must have been obvious that we were going against the rules and guidance then let’s be clear about what you are saying.”
Instead Boris insisted that when he told the Commons in December 2021 that all rules and regulations had been followed, he honestly believed it.
Only after police had dished out scores of fines to No10 staff did the former premier accept that rules had been broken after all.
As the hearing dragged on, an increasingly frustrated BoJo fumed: “People who say we were partying during lockdown simply have no idea what they are talking about.”
He pointed to official No10 photos as evidence he can’t have known they were breaking rules.
He argued: “To say that we would have held illicit events in No10 while allowing these events to be immortalised by an official photographer is staggeringly implausible.”
He went on: “I will believe till the day I die that it was my job to thank staff for what they had done.”
Mr Johnson also dismissed claims his snacks and cake birthday do was a fun-filled affair.
His wife Carrie and No10 flat interior designer Lulu Lytle were at the event which Boris insisted he could not have known was illegal because his press team told The Times about it days after it took place.
He said: “On my birthday, I came back from a long external visit.
“I thought (the gathering) was reasonably necessary for work purposes because I’m standing at my desk surrounded by officials who asked to come and wish me happy birthday.
“I only recently recovered from Covid and it seemed to me to be a perfectly proper thing to do.”
Evidence from senior aides published by the Committee seems to contradict Mr Johnson’s claims he was told all rules were obeyed.
But Labour’s Harriet Harman, the committee chair, claimed his excuses were “flimsy”. Tory Bernard Jenkin savaged his attempts to blame advisers and questioned his “interpretation” of rules.
Allies of Mr Johnson said last night they were concerned the committee was preparing to find him guilty of at least being sloppy in his comments in the Commons.
He accused the Commons Privileges Committee of having acted as ‘prosecutor, judge and jury’ despite having ‘no evidence’