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Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged on Tuesday he misled parliament over government parties that broke COVID, though insisted he never “intentionally” lied.
Johnson will be interrogated by lawmakers on Wednesday about “partygate”, a scandal over drunken gatherings at Downing Street during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021.
If found to have deliberately misled lawmakers, Johnson could be suspended or even lose his seat in Parliament as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
Any punishment would have to be approved by the House of Commons.
In written evidence submitted to parliament, Johnson said his assertions “were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time. I did not intentionally or recklessly mislead the House”.
When reports of the parties surfaced in late 2021, Johnson initially said no COVID rules had been broken, citing assurances from “trusted advisers”.
These turned out to be wrong and Johnson later apologised, saying there had been “misjudgments”.
There was a large public outcry over the scandal, with millions of Brits following the rules to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.
Relatives were angry they were forbidden from saying goodbye to dying loved ones in hospital, while some officials drank alcohol at parties and reportedly abused cleaning and security staff.
What has Johnson said?
In the 52-page dossier submitted to the House of Commons, Johnson said he “honestly believed” the five events he attended, including a send-off for a staffer and his own surprise birthday party, were “lawful work gatherings”.
”No cake was eaten, and no one even sang ‘Happy Birthday,’” he said about one celebration on 19 June 2020, for which he received a police fine.
“The primary topic of conversation was the response to COVID-19.”
Johnson said suggestions government officials considered themselves to be “in a guidance-free bubble, where the requirements imposed on the rest of the country did not apply” were untrue.
Senior civil servant Sue Gray published a damning report into partygate on 25 May 2022.
The London police also led a separate inquiry into the scandal, issuing 126 fines – including one to Johnson – over late-night soirees, boozy parties and “wine time Fridays” held at his official residence.
What does this mean for the Conservative party?
Johnson was forced to resign in July after a slew of scandals over money and ethics finally proved too much for Conservative colleagues, who quit the government by the dozens.
For Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Wednesday’s televised hearing will be an unwelcome reminder of the turmoil that engulfed the Conservative government under Johnson — just as the party’s poll ratings have started to edge upward after consistent gains made by the Labour Party.
Johnson, once considered a secret weapon with voters, is now a liability, said Robert Hayward, a polling expert and Conservative member of the House of Lords.
“He is a serious negative for most people,” Hayward said. “Boris’s polling is far worse than is the case for Rishi.”