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Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament about lockdown parties, committee finds

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament about the lockdown-flouting parties that undermined his credibility and contributed to his downfall, a committee of lawmakers said Thursday after a year-long investigation. 

Johnson quit as an MP last week, making the 90-day suspension academic.

A man in a suit is shown seated a table with a microphone in front of him, his arms flat on the table.

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament about the lockdown-flouting parties that undermined his credibility and contributed to his downfall, a committee of lawmakers said Thursday after a year-long investigation.

A scathing report from the House of Commons privileges committee found that Johnson’s actions and his response to the committee were such a flagrant violation of the rules that they warranted a 90-day suspension from Parliament.

While a condemning indictment of the former prime minister’s conduct, the recommendation is largely symbolic because Johnson angrily quit as a lawmaker on Friday after the committee informed him of its conclusions.

“We have concluded above that in deliberately misleading the House, Mr. Johnson committed a serious contempt,” the committee’s report said. “The contempt was all the more serious because it was committed by the prime minister, the most senior member of the government. There is no precedent for a prime minister having been found to have deliberately misled the House.”

The committee also said Johnson should not be granted a pass to Parliament’s grounds.

The COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice U.K. group said the committee’s report was a painful reminder that while they were saying goodbye to loved ones on Zoom, the prime minister was holding parties.

“Johnson has shown no remorse,” David Garfinkel, a spokesperson for the group, said in a statement. “Instead he lied to our faces when he told us that he’d done ‘all he could’ to protect our loved ones, he lied again when he said the rules hadn’t been broken … and he’s lied ever since when he’s denied it again and again.”

Johnson lashes out at report conclusions

Johnson, 58, fought back in a statement tinged by fury. He described the committee as a “kangaroo court” that conducted a “witch hunt” to drive him out of Parliament. A majority of the panel’s seven members come from Johnson’s Conservative Party.

“The committee now says that I deliberately misled the House, and at the moment I spoke I was consciously concealing from the House my knowledge of illicit events,” Johnson said. “This is rubbish. It is a lie. In order to reach this deranged conclusion, the committee is obliged to say a series of things that are patently absurd, or contradicted by the facts.”

Several people in suits are shown in a legislative chamber, as a television member shows another person.

The report is just the latest episode in the “partygate” scandal that has distracted lawmakers since local news organizations revealed that members of Johnson’s staff held a series of parties in 2020 and 2021 when such gatherings were prohibited by pandemic restrictions. The full House of Commons will now debate the committee’s report and decide whether it concurs with the panel’s findings and recommended sanctions.

Johnson quit as a lawmaker on Friday after the committee informed him in advance that he would be sanctioned.

On Wednesday, the eve of the report’s publication, Johnson also called for the panel’s most senior Conservative member, Bernard Jenkin, to resign over claims that he had broken pandemic restrictions himself.

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, said the move was a “typical distraction tactic from Boris Johnson that doesn’t change the fact he broke the law and lied about it.”

But the former prime minister retains popularity with some in the party, including MP Brendan Clark-Smith, who called the report “spiteful” and “vindictive.”

“I won’t be supporting the recommendations and will be speaking against them both publicly and in the House on Monday,” he said.

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Johnson’s move to quit Parliament means he can no longer be suspended, and his seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip will be contested in a special election in July.

Johnson and his wife, Carrie, were fined by the Metropolitan Police last year for breaching COVID-19 laws at a birthday party for Johnson in June 2020 in his Downing Street residence and office.

The committee examined six gatherings at 10 Downing Street and found “there was no obvious social distancing at any of the events for which the Committee has photographs, and we have direct evidence about the lack of social distancing from witnesses.”

The committee said: “We came to the view that some of Mr Johnson’s denials and explanations [about the gatherings] were so disingenuous that they were by their very nature deliberate attempts to mislead the Committee and the House, while others demonstrated deliberation because of the frequency with which he closed his mind to the truth.”

Larger inquiry into COVID-19 response begins

Current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was also among dozens of people issued with fixed-penalty notices for a series of office parties and “wine time Fridays” in 2020 and 2021 across government buildings.

Revelations of the booze-fuelled gatherings, which took place at a time when millions were prohibited from seeing loved ones or even attending family funerals, angered many Britons and added to a string of ethics scandals that spelled Johnson’s downfall. Johnson resigned as prime minister in July 2022 after a mass exodus of government officials protesting his leadership.

Johnson has acknowledged misleading lawmakers when he assured them that no rules had been broken, but he insisted he didn’t do so deliberately.

In March he told the committee he “honestly believed” the five gatherings he attended, including a send-off for a staffer and his own surprise birthday party, were “lawful work gatherings” intended to boost morale among overworked staff members coping with a deadly pandemic.

Johnson agreed in late 2021 to hold a public inquiry into the U.K. government’s handling of the response to COVID-19 after pressure from bereaved families. That inquiry began Tuesday, and is due to hold hearings until 2026.

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