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Boris Johnson misled MPs over 'partygate': parliament report

June 15, 2023

The former prime minister was found to have deliberately misled Parliament about the COVID lockdown flouting parties. Defiant, he has accused the probing committee of conducting a "witch hunt."

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The House of Commons Privileges Committee found that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson deliberately mislead lawmakers about lockdown parties held at Downing StreetImage: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/picture alliance

Britain's former Prime Minister Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament over parties held at Downing Street during the COVID-19 lockdown, a parliamentary committee said in a report on Thursday.

"We conclude that in deliberately misleading the House Mr Johnson committed a serious contempt," the House of Commons Privileges Committee said.

The disciplinary body for lawmakers found that Johnson's actions violated the rules so much so that the committee would have recommended a 90-day suspension from Parliament. But last week, Johnson announced he was stepping down as a member of Parliament after having been informed of the committee's findings.

Johnson has slammed the report and has accused the committee of mounting a "witch hunt" and acting like a "kangaroo court."

The former prime minister has insisted that he did not deliberately lie to the House of Commons about the parties, which took place at Downing Street in 2020 and 2021 under his leadership.

What were some of the committees' findings?

The committee found that Johnson sought to undermine the parliamentary process by deliberately misleading the House of Commons.

It added that Johnson did this by breaching confidence, impugning the committee and being complicit in a campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation.

"We conclude that when he told the House and this Committee that the rules and guidance were being complied with, his own knowledge was such that he deliberately misled the House and this Committee," the report said.

The privileges committee pointed out that Johnson's behavior as a prime minister was unprecedented.

"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 said.

The House of Commons Privileges Committee is responsible for carrying out investigations into potential breaches of privilege. The committee can make recommendations on potential sanctions against MPs, but the final decision is made by the House of Commons as a whole.

What was 'partygate'?

In May 2022, an internal investigation following media reports of multiple gatherings at government buildings during the global pandemic revealed the gatherings should never have taken place.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray laid out how many of those gatherings were held, including describing parties that went on into the early hours, with music from a karaoke machine. 

Gray published photographs of Johnson toasting staff with wine. 

All the gatherings took place between 2020 and 2021 — when the UK was under strict lockdown rules that were put in place by Johnson's government.

After the media reports first emerged in December 2021, Johnson repeatedly assured lawmakers that he and his staff had always followed the rules.

That turned out to be wrong, Johnson later acknowledged in testimony before Parliament in March this year. But he said it was "what I honestly believed at the time."

Editor's note, June 16, 2023: This article has been updated to add further context about the roles and scope of the House of Commons Privileges Committee.

kb/fb (AFP, AP)