Thursday, March 30, 2023

Boris misled UK Parliament over party gate scandal: panel

An influential UK parliamentary committee examining former British prime minister Boris Johnson’s conduct related to the party gate scandal of COVID lockdown law-breaching parties at Downing Street said on Friday that he may have misled the House of Commons multiple times.
The House of Commons Privileges Committee has published a summary of its findings and called in Johnson to give oral evidence later this month before decisively concluding whether he knowingly misled Parliament and submitting its complete findings to Parliament.
The 58-year-old former prime minister, whose exit from 10 Downing Street last year had been hastened by the party gate scandal, repeatedly denied COVID lockdown rules were broken within government quarters when asked in the Commons.
“The evidence strongly suggests that breaches of guidance would have been obvious to Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings,” reads the cross-party committee’s report.
“There is evidence that those who were advising Mr Johnson about what to say to the press and in the House were themselves struggling to contend that some gatherings were within the rules. The Director of Communications stated in a WhatsApp on January 25 last year to a No. 10 official in relation to the gathering of June 19 in 2020 that: ‘Haven’t heard any explanation of how it’s in the rules’,” it notes.
The interim report goes on to highlight specific instances over the course of 2020 and 2021, during successive COVID lockdowns in the UK, when the House of Commons may have been misled by Johnson’s claims that “no rules or guidance had been broken”.
“It [Parliament] may have been misled when Johnson failed to tell the House about his own knowledge of the gatherings where the rules or guidance had been broken. That is because there is evidence that he attended them,” it reads.
“It appears that Johnson did not correct the statements that he repeatedly made and did not use the well-established procedures of the House to correct something that is wrong at the earliest opportunity,” it adds.
Members of Parliament on the Commons Privileges Committee were tasked with investigating whether Johnson misled Parliament over party gate allegations after Opposition Labour Party Leader Sir Keir Starmer tabled a motion in April 2022.
Johnson has claimed the committee’s interim report showed he was being “vindicated” and it is “clear from this report that I have not committed any contempt of Parliament”.
“That is because there is no evidence in the report that I knowingly or recklessly misled Parliament, or that I failed to update Parliament in a timely manner,” he said. “Nor is there any evidence in the report that I was aware that any events taking place in No. 10 or the Cabinet Office were in breach of the rules or the guidance,” he claimed.
Johnson, now a backbench Conservative Party MP, is scheduled to give oral evidence to the committee in the week starting March 20.
Meanwhile, he has sought to cast doubts over the official party gate inquiry conducted by senior civil servant Sue Gray, which is being used as evidence by the parliamentary inquiry.
After reports emerged that the Labour Party is considering hiring Gray as its chief of staff, Johnson said: “I leave it to others to decide how much confidence may now be placed in her inquiry.”
Labour has vehemently countered such allegations, saying Gray has been offered the political role long after the conclusion of her party gate inquiry concluded last year.


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