Boris Johnson suffered two humiliating blows in Parliament on Wednesday as he was forced to plea “hand to heart” that he had not lied to MPs about his “gateway party” while also failing to lead a House of Commons revolt against Rishi Sunak.
During a sometimes nasty three-hour grilling, the former prime minister defended the decision to hold parties inside Number 10 during the pandemic – including one attended by his wife and his interior designer – saying they were “necessary” for business purposes.
It also emerged that Mr Johnson had been expressly warned against claiming all Covid guidelines were being followed – but did so anyway.
Meanwhile, his efforts to undermine Mr Sunak’s post-Brexit deal with the EU ended in fiasco as the vote on the Windsor framework passed the House of Commons by a whopping 486.
Just 22 Tory MPs rebelled against the settlement to end the protocol dispute in Northern Ireland, in what will be seen as another blow to Johnson’s crumbling power.
Mr. Johnson came:
- He said it would be “absolutely insane” to knowingly lie to Parliament, after taking an oath on the Bible
- She described leaving drinks for 10 employees during the lockdown as ‘necessary’
- Employees at No. 10 said they “didn’t touch each other’s pens” during the pandemic, but admitted they “of course” had drinks on occasions.
- He complained of a “manifestly unfair” process at the hearing
The parliamentary inquiry, conducted by the House of Commons Privileges Committee, investigates whether Johnson deliberately or recklessly misled the House of Commons.
If he is found to have done so, he could be suspended as a Member of Parliament – which could lead to a by-election in his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
Johnson came under pressure during the hearing as Harriet Harman, chair of the Conservative majority committee, asked if he could understand why MPs were “offended by the flimsy nature” of the assertions he had relied on in his remarks to the House of Commons. .
Johnson has also defended his decision to seek those assurances from his media advisers, after the Conservative MP, Sir Bernard Jenkin, said that in Johnson’s position he would have sought legal advice if there had been “even the slightest glimmer of doubt” about whether the rules He follows.
During the hearing, Mr Johnson defended a birthday party attended by his wife and No. 10’s interior designer as “reasonably necessary for business purposes”.
He said leaving drinks for No. 10 staff was “essential”. “I will believe that until the day I die, it was my duty to thank the staff,” he told the committee, “who have worked intensely during Covid.”
But Sir Bernard told him that the Covid rules did not say that parties would be allowed if they were deemed important. He said: “Hidaya does not say that.”
Mr Johnson conceded that he should have demanded from the House of Commons that it was the “rules” that were adhered to, rather than that the “directive” was followed “at all times” in Number 10.
He said he was “misremembering” the line given to the media when the scandal broke. But in another blow to Johnson, it also emerged that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case had given him no assurances that Covid rules were being followed at all times at Number 10 during lockdown.
It turns out that Mr Johnson had been warned by Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds against claiming all Covid guidelines had been followed, but went ahead and made his claim in the House of Commons.
Even before Wednesday’s hearing began, it was locked in a row over allegations that Johnson’s supporters were seeking to “bully” members.
Questioned whether he agreed with his allies that the commission was a “kangaroo court,” Johnson said he did not want to see any “intimidation” but cautioned grimly: “I’ll wait to see how you proceed with the evidence you have.”
Mr Johnson was adamant that he would be acquitted, saying that it would be “utterly insane” to mislead Parliament, and it would be “unfair and wrong” for the committee to conclude that he had done so.
With support in the committee room from arch-loyalist Jacob Rees-Mogg, he accused Harman of past comments “harmful” to his case.
Ms Harman warned that “our democracy depends on confidence that what ministers tell MPs in the House of Commons is the truth. Without that confidence, our parliamentary democracy is completely undermined”.
After the hearing, Max Hastings, Johnson’s former boss, told LBC: “I don’t think you can write off Boris Johnson until he is buried at a crossroads with a stake driven into his heart … of the party, but of the British body politic.”
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