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'Hand on heart ... I did not lie to the House': Boris Johnson over Partygate row amid looming suspension

If the committee concludes that Johnson deliberately lied, he could face suspension or even lose his seat in the Commons.

Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 London Published on: March 22, 2023 23:31 IST
Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Image Source : AP Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Partygate row: Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted “hand on heart” Wednesday that he never lied to lawmakers about rule-breaking government parties during the COVID-19 pandemic, mounting a robust defence at a hearing that could damage or even end his tumultuous political career.

The House of Commons standards committee questioned Johnson over misleading statements he made to Parliament about a slew of gatherings in government buildings that breached lockdown rules. If the committee concludes that he deliberately lied, he could face suspension or even lose his seat in the Commons.

 “Hand on the heart ... I did not lie to the House” 

Johnson came out swinging, telling the committee after taking an oath on a Bible: “Hand on the heart ... I did not lie to the House.” “If anybody thinks I was partying during the lockdown, they are completely wrong,” Johnson said during a session that displayed his characteristic qualities: blustering self-confidence, verbosity and — to critics — a loose relationship with facts.

If the House of Commons Committee of Privileges concludes Johnson lied deliberately, it would likely end hopes of a return to power for the 58-year-old politician, who led the Conservative Party to a landslide victory in 2019.

He was forced out by his own party in July 2022 after getting mired in scandals over money, ethics and judgment.

What is Partygate row?

After reports of the parties 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 acknowledged. But he said it was “what I honestly believed at the time.”

“I apologize for inadvertently misleading this House, but to say that I did it recklessly or deliberately is completely untrue,” he said. In an interim report this month, the committee said evidence strongly suggested that it would have been ”obvious” to Johnson that gatherings in his No. 10, Downing Street offices in 2020 and 2021 broke COVID-19 lockdown rules.

But Johnson said it never occurred to him that the events — which variously included cake, wine, cheese and a “secret Santa” festive gift exchange — broke the restrictions on socializing that his own government had imposed on the country. He 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” intended to boost morale among overworked staff members coping with a deadly pandemic.

He said that at the June 19, 2020 birthday celebration, no one sang “Happy Birthday” and the “Union Jack cake remained in its Tupperware box, unnoticed by me.” Johnson said “trusted advisers” assured him that neither the legally binding rules nor the government’s coronavirus guidance had been broken.

(With inputs from AP)

Also Read: 'Don't want to hurt you but...': Boris Johnson's shocking revelations on Putin in BBC documentary

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