Seven key points from Boris Johnson's partygate hearing

Seven key points from Boris Johnson's partygate hearing
Boris Johnson makes defiant opening statement during Partygate inquiry

Boris Johnson was grilled by a committee of MPs on Wednesday about whether he deliberately misled parliament over lockdown parties.

The former prime minister was questioned by the privileges committee for some three-hours as part of their investigation into his conduct, which could see him suspended from parliament.

It was a tense session, in which Johnson repeatedly defended himself over his actions and claimed events he attended were necessary for work reasons.

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At one point, he appeared to lose his temper and even accused the panel grilling him of talking "complete nonsense".

Here's a run-down of those, and other main events:

Swearing on the Bible

At the start of the session, the former prime minister took the King James Bible in hand and read out an oath.

"I swear by almighty God that the evidence I shall give for this committee should be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God," he said.

This was an unusual way to start an evidence session in parliament because it has been more than 10 years since it last happened and meant Johnson's testimony was subject to the Perjury Act of 1911, meaning lying, or providing a false account, would be a criminal offence.

Aside from this, people on social media found it very entertaining.

Blaming officials

Johnson repeatedly said he relied on the advice of his advisors in Downing Street and said none of them had expressed concerns that he was breaking the rules.

In particular, he referenced his former director of communications Jack Doyle.

The committee didn't seem impressed by the idea that the prime minister would need help remembering the rules.

Work events

Despite receiving a fixed-penalty notice for one of the events the committee is investigating, Johnson repeatedly seemed sure he hadn't broken rules.

He said the corridors in Downing Street were small so it was hard to socially distance - though said staff tried to do so - and said he believed all the events he attended were necessary for work.

“To this day, I struggle to see how I could have run No.10, run hundreds of officials who needed to be thanked and appreciated for their efforts in very trying circumstances, without having brief farewell events … that did not fall foul of the rules,” he said.

“I don’t think we agree with your interpretation of the guidance,” one of the MPs in the committee, Tory MP Bernard Jenkin said.

"Complete nonsense"

At one point, Jenkin suggested the prime minister “did not take proper advice” before making the statements to parliament in December 2020 in which he said that no rules were broken during the period. These are the events the committee is investigating.

This is when we saw Johnson at his most tetchy.

“That’s nonsense — I mean, complete nonsense,” the former PM said. “I asked the relevant people. They were senior people!”

That was not the only time the former PM appeared agitated.

Asked by Labour MP Yvonne Fovargue if he would have advised anyone else in the country to hold a large scale social gathering in the garden, Mr Johnson replied: "It was not a large social gathering. It was, it was, it was a gathering...

"I really must insist this point, people who say that we were partying in lockdown simply do not know what they are talking about. People who say that event was a purely social gathering are quite wrong.

"My purpose there was to thank the staff, to motivate them in what had been a very difficult time and what was also a very difficult day in which the cabinet secretary had just resigned."

Fovargue replied: "Did you think, Mr Johnson, that exceptions applied in Number 10 to workplace rules and social distancing guidelines that didn't apply to the hospitals and the care homes? Workplaces that were also operating under incredibly different, difficult and challenging circumstances?"

Johnson replied: "Of course not. And that's why we continued. That's why we had all the stipulations I've discussed at great length... about following the guidance."

"Kangaroo court"

Johnson was grilled on his supporters’ characterisation of the inquiry as a “kangaroo court” and a “witch-hunt”.

The former prime minister told the committee: “I will wait to see how you proceed with the evidence you have. I will study your conclusions from the evidence. I deprecate the terms that you have used, I don’t want to see good colleagues feeling that they’re under pressure either way. I believe if you study this evidence impartially, you will come to the conclusion that I’ve given.”

Sir Charles Walker, another Tory MP on the privileges committee, said Johnson’s supporters had mounted “a concerted effort to delegitimise the committee, to call us a kangaroo court”.

Asked whether he regretted that, Johnson told Sir Charles: “There should be no intimidation, there should be no attempt to bully any colleague in any matter whatever.”

"We didn't touch pens"

One of Johnson's most strange lines of defence was that people working in Downing Street didn't touch pens so they were socially distancing just fine.

“We didn’t touch each other’s pens, we didn’t pass stuff to each other if we could possibly avoid it,” he said.

Committee chairwoman Harriet Harman retorted: “Presumably people were passing drinks to each other, because we have seen the picture?”

Johnson replied: “Of course, this is guidance. I’m not going to pretend it was enforced rigidly, but that’s explicitly what the guidance provides for.”

Dominic Cummings

Johnson argued that his former aide Dominic Cummings had “every motive to lie” about his claim that he personally informed the former prime minister of his concerns about an outdoor drinks event held for Downing Street staff on May 20, 2020.

Cummings doesn't think highly of his former boss, who he calls "trolley" and has made a number of claims suggesting his leadership during Covid wasn't exactly great.

Johnson said Cumming's claims were “unsupported by any documentary evidence” and “plainly cannot be relied on”.

What happens next?

The committee are collecting more evidence and a verdict is not expected for around another three weeks.

If they decide he deliberately misled parliament they could recommend he is suspended from parliament for a certain period but a period over 10 days would trigger a vote in the commons.

Any ban over 10 days would see him liable to a recall petition to trigger a by-election in his constituency and could therefore mean the end of Johnson's political career.

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