Boris Johnson accepted that he misled the House of Commons over the Partygate scandal — but denied doing so “intentionally or recklessly,” as he urged MPs not to listen to his aide-turned-nemesis Dominic Cummings.
Johnson will face the cross-party privileges committee Wednesday over the accusation he lied to parliament about the Partygate row, which saw a host of rule-breaching parties held in government offices in 2020 and 2021 despite strict lockdown restrictions. Johnson was among those later fined by police for breaches.
In a 52-page dossier setting out his defense ahead of a marathon committee grilling Wednesday, the former prime minister said the only evidence supporting claims he intentionally misled parliament came from his former top adviser, Cummings, who he said could not be “treated as a credible witness” given the “animus” he bears towards Johnson.
The privileges committee inquiry is centered around statements Johnson made in the House of Commons in December 2021, where he claimed, among other things, that “the rules were followed at all times.”
This statement was made several months after Johnson attended several gatherings on government property — including a party held for his birthday which he was eventually fined for attending.
“I accept that the House of Commons was misled by my statements that the rules and guidance had been followed completely at No 10,” Johnson wrote in the dossier. But, he argued, “when the statements were made, they were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time.”
He added: “I did not intentionally or recklessly mislead the House on 1 December 2021, 8 December 2021, or on any other date. I would never have dreamed of doing so. The only exception is the assertions of the discredited Dominic Cummings, which are not supported by any documentation.”
Cummings — a key architect of Johnson’s 2019 general election victory who has become a fierce critic of his old boss since leaving Downing Street a year later — said Tuesday that Johnson’s assertions were “not just obviously false,” but were examples of “further misinformation from him.”
While Johnson thanks the committee for its “hard work,” he also takes direct aim at the basis of its investigation, arguing that he was right to rely on “assurance that I received from trusted advisers” about whether on not the government gatherings stayed with in the rules.
Claims he should not have been so reliant on assurances from aides are, he argues “unprecedented and absurd,” given that he was “working day and night to manage” to manage the government’s COVID-19 response.
“It was self-evidently reasonable for me to rely on assurances that I received from my advisers,” he said.
“The suggestion to the contrary would have profound and debilitating implications for the future of debate in the House, and for the ability of Ministers to rely on the advice of their officials when answering questions in Parliament,” Johnson added.
In a thinly-veiled swipe at Johnson Tuesday, the committee said the ex-PM’s submission “contains no new documentary evidence.”
And it defended a gap between receipt of the dossier and its publication by pointing to “a number of errors and typos” in his original submission, as well as the need for redactions to protect the identity of witnesses, “particularly junior-ranking civil servants.”