Partygate Privileges Committee hearing LIVE: Boris Johnson says boozy gatherings ‘necessary for work’
Boris Johnson clashed in heated exchanges with senior MPs on the Privileges Committee on Wednesday over his reassurances to the Commons that Covid rules and guidance was followed in No10 during the partygate scandal.
The former prime minister said the boozy gatherings, which came to be known collectively as ‘Partygate’, were necessary as part of work morale in Number 10 during the pandemic.
Chairwoman Harriet Harman said MPs were justified in their “dismay” over “flimsy” assurances he gave them about following lockdown rules.
“Would you not expect us to be a bit dismayed to hear that [that assurance] was not from the senior civil servants, it was from political appointees, [and] that they themselves had doubts about it?”.
But Mr Johnson said that he thought, at the time, the gatherings were within the rules and therefore he did not willingly mislead Parliament.
During a three-hour grilling Mr Johnson also crossed swords with Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin over the Downing Street gatherings that led to more than 100 fixed penalty notices to be issued by the police.
Key timings throughout the day at a glance
07:39 , Josh Salisbury
9am: The Commons’ Privileges Committee published a “core bundle” of documentary evidence that Boris Johnson may refer to in its probe over whether he misled Parliament over Partygate.
If Mr Johnson is found to have intentionally or recklessly misled Parliament, it could spell the end of his political career. More on that here.
Midday: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faced off against MPs at PMQs. Mr Sunak was grilled on his party’s record on crime, and opposition to his Windsor Framework deal reached with the EU over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.
Boris Johnson is among those within the Conservative Party who has said they will vote against the Stormont Brake on Wednesday afternoon, which aims to give the Northern Ireland assembly a greater say on how EU laws apply to Northern Ireland, alongside ex-PM Liz Truss. However, the measure is backed by Labour so is likely to pass.
2pm: Boris Johnson will appear before the Privileges Committee for a blockbuster televised evidence session on whether he misled Parliament. It is expected to last between two and five hours.
Boris Johnson to vote against Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal
07:43 , Josh Salisbury
Boris Johnson will vote against Rishi Sunak's Brexit deal later Wednesday.
The former Prime Minister, who had already voiced concerns about the deal brokered with Brussels, confirmed that he will not be backing the deal when MPs vote on the Stormont brake in the Commons at around 2.30pm.
In a statement, he said: “The proposed arrangements would mean either that Northern Ireland remained captured by the EU legal order - and was increasingly divergent from the rest of the UK - or they would mean that the whole of the UK was unable properly to diverge and take advantage of Brexit.
“That is not acceptable. I will be voting against the proposed arrangements today.
“Instead, the best course of action is to proceed with the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, and make sure that we take back control."
With Labour backing the Windsor Framework agreement signed last month, the Government should win the Commons division comfortably, despite criticism from some hardline Tory Brexiteers.
More on what that means for Rishi Sunak and the wider Brexit deal can be found here.
Inflation unexpectedly rises to 10.4%
07:50 , Josh Salisbury
Also on the news agenda today is an unexpected rise in inflation to a near 40-year high of 10.4 per cent, up from 10.1 per cent in January.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has responded that “falling inflation isn't inevitable,” and that the Government is sticking with its plan to halve inflation this year.
“We recognise just how tough things are for families across the country, so as we work towards getting inflation under control we will help families with cost-of-living support worth £3,300 on average per household this year,” he said.
But Labour Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said: “The reality is that under this Tory Government, families are feeling worse off and nothing is working better than it did 13 years ago.”
The increase in prices could add pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates.
Tory MP signals he may join Boris Johnson in voting down Sunak Brexit deal
07:54 , Josh Salisbury
Among the Tory MPs signalling they may join Boris Johnson in voting against Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal is backbencher Peter Bone.
Appearing on Sky News, he said he was “pretty miffed" about the Government's approach to a vote on the Stormont brake element of the deal.
“We were promised a full debate on the Windsor Framework," Mr Bone, who was deputy leader of the House for three months last year, said.
“If I get a question at PMQs I'm going to ask the Prime Minister what happened to our wider vote?”
Mr Bone said he would be listening to the debate in the Commons, but “if I had to vote at this moment in time, I should vote against.”
It is yet unclear how big of a rebellion Rishi Sunak faces on the vote, due Wednesday afternoon - but the deal is backed by Labour and so should pass comfortably.
Labour defends Starmer over ‘hypocrisy about pensions’
08:45 , Josh Salisbury
Labour is defending its leader Keir Starmer after it was reported he previously had a pension which meant the lifetime contributions tax cap did not apply.
It comes after the party criticised the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt for doing away with the limit on lifetime contributions to a pension without attracting additional tax - labelling it a tax giveaway for the rich.
Labour’s shadow justice secretary Steve Reed, appearing on Sky News, rejected any suggestion Sir Keir had shown hypocrisy over the issue, which concerns his time as Director of Public Prosecutions.
“It wasn't Keir Starmer as Director of Public Prosecutions who set his own pension,” Mr Reed said.
“That was set by the Conservative government at the time so if people have problems with it they really need to speak to David Cameron and George Osborne.”
Mr Reed was asked repeatedly if Labour would change the rules.
“Those schemes were put in place so that we didn't have an exodus of judges and you know that we've got the biggest backlog on record of trials,” he said.
“If we change the pension scheme for judges and lose judges, then what is already a 60,000 backlog in the Crown courts, three-year delays, will be even worse.”
Liz Truss plans to vote against Sunak’s post-Brexit deal
08:54 , Josh Salisbury
Liz Truss plans to vote against Rishi Sunak's new post-Brexit deal for Northern Ireland today, a source close to the former prime minister has said.
It comes after Boris Johnson confirmed this morning he would not vote for the deal.
Ms Truss was understood to believe the Prime Minister's Windsor pact does not "satisfactorily resolve the issues thrown up by" the Northern Ireland Protocol and "almost fatally impinges" on the UK's ability to diverge from EU rules and regulations. You can read more on this here.
Reynolds: ‘Bring your own booze’ invitation was ‘totally inappropriate'
09:35 , Josh Salisbury
Among the Privileges Committee’s dossier of evidence is an expression of regret by Martin Reynolds, the former senior civil servant, who sent a “bring your own booze” event invite during lockdown.
Mr Reynolds told the Committee: “With the benefit of hindsight, the language used was totally inappropriate and gave a misleading impression of the nature of the event.
“It was an event held because staff needed a morale boost after an extremely difficult period when all sorts of tensions had begun to surface and hoped that being thanked by the PM and talking to each other might strengthen their sense of being part of one team.
“The event was not a party in any normal sense of the word.”
Dominic Cummings: Boris knew May 2020 ‘BYOB’ event was a party
09:40 , Josh Salisbury
Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief of staff, has told the Committee Mr Johnson knew a May 2020 ‘BYOB’ lockdown event was a social gathering.
In newly-published evidence, Mr Cummings told the Committee: “The idea the PM could have thought this drinks event was 'work' is comical, given the tables covered in bottles of drink, everyone standing around drinking etc.
“The PM certainly knew it was a drinks party because I told him and when he walked outside he saw a drinks party."
He insisted that he did not give Mr Johnson any reassurances about the event being with the guidelines at the time, and described the invitation - issued by then senior civil servant Martin Reynolds - as a “mistake”.
He claimed: “I told him that Reynolds had organised the drinks party that was against the rules and he should overrule and stop it. He declined.”
Simon Case: I did not give Boris Johnson assurances lockdown rules weren’t broken
09:48 , Josh Salisbury
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, Westminster’s most senior civil servant, has told the Committee in newly-published evidence that he did not give Boris Johnson any assurances that lockdown rules were being followed in No10.
Mr Johnson had told the House of Commons on December 8 2021, in response to Partygate reports, that “I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken".
But Mr Case told the Committee in response to questions that he had not given any such assurances and did not know of anyone who did.
This has been contradicted by Mr Johnson’s former PPS Sarah Dines MP said she was “90 per cent sure” Mr Case did tell the PM that all rules were followed.
She said: “I remember on one occasion whilst I was at a meeting with Mr Johnson with many other people in the Cabinet Room that Mr Johnson asked a question of the meeting: ‘We did follow the rules at all times, didn’t we?’ I recall more than one person in the room said ‘Yes, of course’.
“I am not certain who the people were who said yes, but I am certain they were civil servants, and it was more than one voice. I am about 90 per cent sure one of them was Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary.”
Ms Dines added that she could not remember the exact date of the meeting, but it was around the beginning of December 2021 when the partygate scandal was “very much in the eye of the media” .
Boris Johnson ‘deleted PMQs line stating lockdown guidance followed at all times’ - Reynolds
09:51 , Josh Salisbury
The Prime Minister’s former principal private secretary Martin Reynolds claimed Boris Johnson deleted a proposed line for Prime Minister's Questions stating that all guidance had been followed at all times after a warning it was not “realistic”, writes political reporter, Rachael Burford.
In written evidence to the Privileges Committee published today, Mr Reynolds said: “I do recall asking the then Prime Minister about the line proposed for PMQs on December 7, suggesting that all rules and guidance had been followed.
He added: “[Mr Johnson] did not welcome the interruption but told me that he had received reassurances that the comms event was within the rules.
“I accepted this but questioned whether it was realistic to argue that all guidance had been followed at all times, given the nature of the working environment in No 10. He agreed to delete the reference to guidance."
Mr Reynolds said he questioned Mr Johnson about the line “roughly an hour” before PMQs on December 7.
No10 official: Boris ‘could’ve shut down lockdown gatherings’ but ‘allowed the culture to continue'
10:00 , Josh Salisbury
A No 10 official has told the Committee that Boris Johnson “had the opportunity to shut down" lockdown gatherings in Downing Street but “allowed the culture to continue".
The unnamed Downing Street employee said on February 7: “The former prime minister often saw and joined these gatherings, either he was invited by Spads [special advisers] or spotted them whilst walking up to his flat.
“The route he took down the corridor looks straight into the press room and vestibule so it's impossible not to see. He had the opportunity to shut them down but joined in, made speeches, had a drink with staff.
“He could have taken the issue up with Martin Reynolds, his principal private secretary, to shut them down. He could see what was happening and allowed the culture to continue."
Boris: Wine in garden ‘wasn’t against the rules'
10:18 , Josh Salisbury
In the newly-released evidence is an interview with Boris Johnson in which he states meeting in the No10 garden with a bottle of wine was not a breach of the rules.
The interview is undated and one which he gave to Sue Gray’s inquiry into lockdown-breaking parties in Government.
He said: “I would encourage people into the garden for the pandemic. I felt it would be wrong stop people going into the garden.
“It is democratic and conducive staff wellbeing - where to go to draw the line?
“When you are in the garden and in a meeting it was ok to have bottle wine accompanied by alcohol moderation. Certainly not against the rules as I understand them."
Pictured: Boris Johnson heads to Parliament ahead of grilling
10:57 , Josh Salisbury
Boris Johnson has been pictured heading to Parliament ahead of his grilling before the Priveleges Committee at 2pm.
Mr Johnson will also vote on Rishi Sunak’s new deal on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland. Both he and former PM Liz Truss have indicated they will vote down the ‘Stormont Brake’, a key plank of Mr Sunak’s new ‘Windsor Framework’ deal.
Boris Johnson risks ‘being pound shop Nigel Farage’ if he rejects Sunak Brexit deal - minister
11:06 , Josh Salisbury
Away from Partygate, Mr Johnson is also in the news because of his intention to vote against a key plank of Rishi Sunak’s new post-Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.
Mr Johnson is among the Conservative Party MPs - which also includes former PM, Liz Truss - to say they will vote down the measure, leaving Mr Sunak facing the prospect of a backbench rebellion.
Speaking to broadcasters, Nothern Ireland minister Steve Baker warned Mr Johnson that he risked becoming “a pound shop Nigel Farage”, if he does reject the deal.
“Both of them should be backing the Windsor Framework today,” he said. “He can be remembered for the great acts of statecraft that he achieved or he can risk looking like a pound shop Nigel Farage.
“I hope he chooses to be remembered as a statesman."
The deal is set to easily clear the Commons because Labour will back it even if there is a sizeable Conservative rebellion.
Which Tory MPs are voting against Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal?
11:19 , Josh Salisbury
At least ten Conservative MPs, including the two former PMs Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, have said they will vote against Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit Windsor Agreement.
The vote is scheduled to take place at around 2.30pm, after approximately 90 minutes of debate.
Those who have said they will vote against are:
Sir Iain Duncan Smith
Sir John Redwood
Sir James Duddridge
Speaker warns MPs against interfering with Partygate committee hearing
11:48 , Josh Salisbury
Commons’ Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has repeated a warning to MPs not to interfere with the Privileges Committee investigation into Boris Johnson.
Sir Lindsay told MPs that the Committee - which has been criticised by pro-Johnson allies - “should be left to get on with it".
The message reads: “The Committee must be allowed to complete its work without interference, both in relation to the evidence it is taking today and during the time before its report is published.
“I would like to remind you that interference with or intimidation of a committee is potentially a contempt of the House and restraint is appropriate while the Committee's work continues.”
Sunak faces prospect of growing Tory rebellion over post-Brexit deal
11:53 , Josh Salisbury
The European Research Group of Eurosceptic backbench Tory MPs is recommending its members vote against the Government on Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit deal.
MPs are due to vote on the Stormont Brake, a key plank of the new ‘Windsor Framework’ on Wednesday afternoon, but at least 10 Tory MPs, including Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, have said they cannot support it.
Mark Francois, chairman of the ERG, said it had recommended members vote against it - raising the prospect of an even bigger Tory backbench rebellion.
However, the measure will likely pass regardless of the eventual size of the Tory rebellion because it is supported by Labour.
12:03 , Josh Salisbury
Prime Minister’s Questions is now beginning.
Rishi Sunak is likely to face questions on divisions within his party over his post-Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, which a growing number of Tory MPs said they cannot support.
Sunak: I was ‘appalled’ by damning Met Police report
12:07 , Josh Salisbury
Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer has begun his questions to Mr Sunak by asking about the damning Casey report into the Metropolitan Police, which found it to be institutionally racist, sexist, and homophobic.
“I accept those findings in full. Does the Prime Minister?” he asks.
Mr Sunak responds: “I was appalled to read the descriptions of the abhorrent cases of officers who have betrayed the public’s trust and abused their powers. And let me be clear, it is and was, unacceptable and never should have happened.”
He says the Government will work with the Met to improve standards, saying it is “imperative” the beleagured force works hard to regain Londoners’ trust.
Starmer calls for single vetting process after Met Police report
12:11 , Josh Salisbury
Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer returns to the Casey report, saying it lays bare how those unfit to join the police are aided by faulty vetting systems.
He calls on the PM to roll-out a single national vetting standard for police officers, as Labour has suggested.
Mr Sunak says this is unecessary because the Government is already taking action on the report’s recommendations, listing a number of changes, including changes to the statutory code for vetting.
“These steps of course won’t undo the terrible damage that have been previously committed, but we owe this action and more to the victims and survivors to ensure that such tragedies never happen again.”
Starmer accuses government of failing rape victims with low charge rates
12:17 , Josh Salisbury
Sir Keir Starmer references one of the most shocking allegations contained in the Casey report - that officers were forced to use broken and overstuffed fridges containing rape victims’ evidence.
“On his watch, rape charges are 1.6%. Yet the Government still hasn’t backed Labour’s plan to have proper, high quality rape and serial sexual offences units in every police force. Why not?” he asks.
Mr Sunak responds by saying the report states that primary public accountability of the Met sits with the Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
“She described that relationship between the Mayor and the Met as, in her words, ‘dysfunctional’,” he says.
“I hope when he stands up he will confirm to the House that he will take up these matters with the Labour mayor of London, so that he plays his part.”
Mr Sunak says the Government is doing “everything it can” to support victims of serious crime.
Starmer: Crime is out of control and public paying the price
12:22 , Josh Salisbury
Keir Starmer tells Rishi Sunak that the public is “fed up to the back teeth” of the Government not taking responsibility on crime in a fiery exchange,
Turning to Tory MPs shouting, he says: “If they’re proud of the fact that over 98% of rapists are never put before [a court], if they want to shout about that, that’s their record, let them shout about it. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
“The truth is simple. After 13 years of Tory government, crime is out of control, and people are paying the price.”
Mr Sunak defends his government’s record on crime, saying neighbourhood crime is down 25% and that the government is on track to double the number of rape cases reaching the courts.
Starmer: Sunak ‘totally out of touch’ on crime
12:28 , Josh Salisbury
Keir Starmer accuses Mr Sunak of being “totally out of touch” by pretending everything is fine.
“He needs to get out of Westminster, get out of Kensington and I don’t mean to Malibu, to the streets of Britain, go there and tell people it’s all fine and see what reaction he gets,” Mr Starmer says.
He says the Government should be ashamed of their record on crime, saying burglars are twice as likely to get away with it as a decade ago.
To cheers from Tory MPs, Mr Sunak, who represents Richmond in North Yorkshire, while Starmer represents a London seat, responds: “First of all, let me say North Yorkshire is a lot further away than North London.”
He says since the Tories came into power, crime is down 50%, violent crime down by 40%, burglary down by 56%.
“Why? Because we have recruited 20,000 more police officers ... all [Labour] has done is vote against greater protections for emergency workers.”
Sunak: My post-Brexit deal is ‘good deal’ for Northern Ireland despite Tory rebellion
12:35 , Josh Salisbury
Rishi Sunak has insisted that his Windsor Framework post-Brexit deal for Northern Ireland is a “good deal for people” of Nothern Ireland.
Mr Sunak faces a growing Tory rebellion on a vote to be held later in the Commons on the Stormont Brake, a key part of the deal - with two former Tory leaders saying they cannot support it.
These are Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, while the European Research Group of Eurosceptic backbench MPs have recommended voting against the deal.
Sunak criticises Ulez expansion
12:41 , Josh Salisbury
Rishi Sunak has criticised Sadiq Khan’s plans to expand the Ulez to the north and south circulars.
Mr Sunak said: “I would urge the parties opposite to listen and stand up for the public and small businesses, just as the Conservatives do.”
He was responding to a question by Tory MP Jerome Mayhew, who said more than a million people living outside the capital stand to be impacted by Ulez, calling it an “unfair, £12.50 tax”.
DUP leader confirms party will vote down Windsor Agreement deal
12:48 , Josh Salisbury
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has confirmed his party will vote against Rishi Sunak’s post-Brexit agreement for Northern Ireland.
Mr Sunak had hoped to secure the DUP’s support for the deal in order to resume power sharing at Stormont, the devolved Northern Ireland government.
“I have consistently indicated that fundamental problems remain notwithstanding progress made,” Sir Jeffrey said.
“Consequently there is not a sustainable basis at this stage to enable us to restore Stormont. We will vote against the proposal today & continue to engage with the Government to secure clarification, reworking & change.
“Our consultation also continues & we are giving people & businesses the opportunity to have their voice heard.”
I have consistently indicated that fundamental problems remain notwithstanding progress made.
Consequently there is not a sustainable basis at this stage to enable us to restore Stormont. We will vote against the proposal today & continue to engage with the Government to secure…
— Jeffrey Donaldson MP (@J_Donaldson_MP) March 22, 2023
MPs begin debating Sunak’s post-Brexit deal
13:03 , Josh Salisbury
MPs have begun debating Sunak’s post-Brexit deal with the EU over trading arrangements in Nothern Ireland.
A vote on the ‘Stormont Brake’ aspect of the deal is expected at around 2.30pm.
A growing number of Tory MPs have said they cannot back it, including former PMs Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, but the measure should comfortably clear the Commons in any event as it is backed by Labour.
MPs are now debating Northern Ireland (Motion for Approval).
Find out more in the Order Paper: https://t.co/cUpmJOY2Lj
Watch on Parliament TV: https://t.co/M9fPHqwN4G pic.twitter.com/IadXoh7yDt
— UK House of Commons (@HouseofCommons) March 22, 2023
PM welcoming cricketers to No10 while Johnson is grilled
13:23 , Miriam Burrell
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak won’t be watching Boris Johnson’s grilling by the Privileges Committee, No 10 has said.
Mr Johnson is facing the committee, chaired by Labour’s Harriet Harman, at 2pm, but Mr Sunak has other plans.
He will be welcoming England’s men’s ICC T20 Cricket World Cup team to Downing Street.
What is the Privileges Committee?
13:32 , Miriam Burrell
The Privileges Committee is chaired by Labour MP Harriet Harman and is made up of seven MPs - four Torys, two Labour and one SNP.
The Committee only has power to issue a report to the House setting out its findings. It can recommend to the House that Boris Johnson be found to have committed a contempt, and sanctions can include apologies and suspension.
The three questions the Committee will set out to answer are whether the House was misled, and if so, whether that was a contempt – which has been defined as an action or omission which may have obstructed or impeded the functioning of the House of Commons - and if so, how serious was that contempt.
A recap: Timeline of key lockdown gatherings
13:50 , Miriam Burrell
May 20 2020: Bring your own booze party - The prime minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, emailed around 200 staff to invite them to “socially distanced drinks in the garden”.
June 18 2020: Cabinet Office leaving do - A gathering took place in No 10 and then the 70 Whitehall building to mark the departure of a No 10 private secretary.
June 19 2020: Boris Johnson’s 56th birthday - Downing Street previously admitted staff “gathered briefly” in the Cabinet Room for what was reportedly a surprise get-together for Mr Johnson organised by his now-wife Carrie.
November 13 2020: Two leaving parties for staff - Images published in Ms Gray’s report show Mr Johnson raising a glass while surrounded by colleagues and bottles of wine.
December 18 2020: Downing Street Christmas party - Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged secret Santa gifts. The prime minister did not attend.
Privileges Committee meeting starting shortly
14:03 , Miriam Burrell
Boris Johnson has arrived for the Privileges Committee meeting, which is to begin shortly.
14:06 , Miriam Burrell
The Privileges Committee chair, Labour MP Harrier Harman, opened by saying “everyone makes mistakes”, but when ministers do they are “expected to correct them at the earliest opportunity”.
“Misleading intentionally, or recklessly, impedes the functioning of the House and is contempt”, she added.
Party interests ‘left at the door’, Committee chair vows
14:08 , Miriam Burrell
Privileges Committee chair Harriet Harman said party interests are “left at the door” and the committee’s seven MPs are examining what Boris Johnson said to the House about gatherings at No 10 during the Covid pandemic, whether a statement was misleading, and whether it was “a genuine error” or “reckless”.
Committee to examine Covid rules and guidance
14:11 , Miriam Burrell
As mentioned in the report from March 3, the committee will examine the Covid rules and guidance, since Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that No 10 complied with both.
The committee will be establishing what rules and guidances were enforced at the relevant time, Mr Johnson’s knowledge of the rules and his attendance at social gatherings, chair Harriet Harman said.
Boris Johnson claims all rules and guidance followed
14:13 , Miriam Burrell
The Privileges Committee is now playing several clips of Boris Johnson claiming that rules and guidance were followed at No 10 Downing Street “at all times” during Covid restrictions.
He made these claims as Prime Minisiter in front of MPs in the House of Commons.
Boris Johnson takes oath
14:14 , Miriam Burrell
Boris Johnson has read out an oath while holding a King James bible.
Boris Johnson’s opening statement
14:16 , Miriam Burrell
Boris Johnson said he takes “full responsibility” for what happened during gatherings at No 10 “on his watch”.
“Hand on heart, I did not lie to the House,” he said, claiming his statements were made in “good faith”.
Boris Johnson says he ‘corrected the record’
14:19 , Miriam Burrell
Boris Johnson said as soon as investigations about gatherings at No 10 during lockdown had concluded, he “corrected the record” in the House of Commons as he said he would.
He said he was “deeply shocked” when fines were issued, especially when he was told by Sue Gray that the threshold of criminality had not been reached.
He said the Privileges Committee has been investigating for 10 months, but it has nothing to show that he knew he was breaking any rules.
He said he received “assurances” from staff at No 10 there was no rule breaking.
Boris Johnson says photos do not show him breaking rules
14:22 , Miriam Burrell
Boris Johnson said photos of him at gatherings at No 10 do not show him breaking rules, but instead giving “a few words of thanks to a departing collegaue”, or show him heading back to his flat to “work late into the night”.
He said the photos also “show events for which I was never fined for attending”.
He said they were not covert photos, but were taken by the official No 10 photographer.
Privileges Committee suspended while Boris Johnson votes
14:23 , Miriam Burrell
The Privileges Committee has been suspended now for 15 minutes while Boris Johnson heads to the House of Commons to vote on the Windsor Framework.
He will then return to finish his opening statement.
‘This is Boris Johnson’s opportunity to give us answers’
14:32 , Miriam Burrell
In her opening statements just a few moments ago, Privileges Committee chair Harriet Harman said: “The evidence that we have already raises clear questions.
“This is Boris Johnson’s opportunity to give us his answers were.”
Boris Johnson returns
14:34 , Miriam Burrell
Boris Johnson has returned from voting on the Windsor Framework. The meeting will resume shortly.
Boris Johnson continues opening statement
14:38 , Miriam Burrell
Boris Johnson is continuing his opening statement.
He said most important of all, if it was obvious he was breaking rules, it must have been “equally obvious” to senior lawmakers and the current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, who was Chancellor at the time.
“You are not only accusing me of lying, but all those civil servants,” he said, adding that the Privileges Committee is not giving anyone else an opportunity to defend themselves.
He said officials believed rules and guidance were being adhered to.
Social distancing was not ‘complied with perfectly’, Johnson said
14:41 , Miriam Burrell
Boris Johnson said when he claimed that rules and guidance were not broken at No 10, he was not trying to “conceal” the truth, but said “in good faith” what he believed at the time.
“That did not mean that I believed that social distancing was complied with perfectly,” he said, but rather it was “not possible” to have social distancing at No 10.
It was not obvious guidance was breached, Johnson claims
14:44 , Miriam Burrell
Boris Johnson said it was not obvious that guidance was being breached.
He said the vast majority of events relied upon by the Privileges Committee he only attended for 15 to 25 minutes.
“I will believe to the day I die that it was my job to thank staff for what they had done,” he said, adding that staff “morale did begin to sink”.
He said police agreed to his attendance to these gatherings.
Johnson: Gathering on December 18, 2020 was ‘within the rules’
14:47 , Miriam Burrell
Referring to the gathering on December 18 in 2020, in the press room in No 10, Boris Johnson said he was not there but believed the gathering “was within the rules”.
He said he was inclined to believe the event “must be in line with the rules and guidance”.
Boris Johnson apologises for ‘inadvertently misleading’ MPs
14:49 , Miriam Burrell
Boris Johnson said it’s “ridiculous” for the Privileges Committee to suggest he should not have relied on advise from his senior advisers.
“I had to rely on, and was fully entitled to rely on, senior advisers,” he told the Committee.
He went on to say he apologises for “inadvertently misleading this House”, but claimed it was not “recklessly”.
Boris Johnson asks Committee to be ‘fair'
14:52 , Miriam Burrell
“I trust that the Committee will be fair to me...and conclude I did not unwittingly mislead the Commons...and that no contempt has been committed,” Boris Johnson said in ending his opening statement.
14:54 , Miriam Burrell
The Privileges Committee is now asking Boris Johnson questions.
On December 21, 2021 and onwards, Mr Johnson told the House that Covid rules and guidance were followed “at all times”, Committee chair Harriet Harman said.
Committee member and Tory MP Bernard Jenkin is asking the first question.
‘Guidance to be implemented where possible,’ Johnson says
14:58 , Miriam Burrell
Tory MP Bernard Jenkin pointed out how Boris Johnson “regularly repeated” Covid guidance at press conferences, proving there is “no doubt” he knew the guidance and what they were intended to achieve.
Boris Johnson accepted this. Photographs have been shown of Mr Johnson with at least 6-8 others standing in close proximity.
Mr Jenkin asked if Mr Johnson accepts that people were not socially distanced at the gathering.
He said “at all stages the guidance was intended to be implemented where possible”.
Staff tried their best within confines of No 10, Johnson argues
15:03 , Miriam Burrell
Comittee member Bernard Jenkin argued that people at the gathering were not socially distanced by two metres.
Boris Johnson claimed that guidance at the time was for everyone to abide by a one metre socially distant rule.
“You can’t expect human beings in an environment like No 10 to have an invisible electrified fence around them, they will occassionally enter another person’s orbit,” Mr Johnson said.
Staff ‘making a huge effort to follow guidance'
15:10 , Miriam Burrell
Boris Johnson said he accepts that “perfect social distancing” was not always taking place in No 10, but this was not in breach of guidance.
“I accept that not everybody is perfectly socially distanced in that picture”, he told Committee member Bernard Jenkin, but he said people “were making a huge effort to follow the guidance”.
“I struggle to see how I could have run No 10...without having brief farewell events of a kind... that did not fall foul of the rules.”
Boris Johnson denies ‘partying’ during lockdown
15:15 , Miriam Burrell
There were lots of people leading critical organisations across the country during lockdown, committee member Bernard Jenkin said, while asking why it was acceptable for No 10 to host a leaving do when others did not.
“If anyone thinks I was partying during lockdown, that is completely wrong,” Boris Johnson replied.
Privileges Committee suspended
15:17 , Miriam Burrell
The Privileges Committee has been suspended again due to division in the House of Commons.
MPs are voting on the Windsor Framework.
It will resume in 15 minutes.
15:30 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
The Privileges Committee has resumed its meeting.
Witness recalled people ‘standing four to five people deep’ at gathering
15:36 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
The committee has heard how one witness “stated they couldn’t get through the room to leave” the gathering, “because people were standing four to five people deep”.
Mr Johnson responded that this account “does not accord” with his memory of events.
“The person who was leaving on that occasion...she said that it was a clutch of officials and that it lasted a very short time indeed,” he replied. “She said that, I think, there was a speech by me that lasted 45 seconds, and a speech by her that lasted 15 seconds.
“I was certainly there very briefly indeed.
“The quotation you have about that event does not actually accord with my own memory.”
Committee to examine two earlier 2020 gatherings
15:40 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Chair Harriet Harman says the committee will now move to examine two earlier gatherings in 2020, both of which Mr Johnson attended.
Johnson quizzed on lockdown ‘birthday party’ at No 10
15:47 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
The Committee has been shown images of Mr Johnson attending a gathering in No 10 on his birthday, June 19, 2020, while lockdown rules were in force.
The photos reportedly show “at least 17 other people” at the event, and Mr Johnson admitted his wife, Carrie, was there along with his son, and interior designer.
Johnson defends birthday gathering: ‘It seemed a perfectly proper thing to do’
15:54 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Boris Johnson says he had “absolutely no sense” that the gathering on his birthday in 2020 was in contravention of lockdown rules and guidelines.
He was asked by a member of the Privileges Committee why he thought the gathering was “reasonably necessary for work purposes”, as required by the rules at the time.
Mr Johnson responded: “I’d come back from a long external visit. I was standing at my desk, surrounded by officials who had been asked to come and wish me happy birthday.
“I’d only recently recovered from Covid and it seemed to me to be a perfectly proper thing to do. We were about to have another meeting.”
He defended the fact his family were at the “meeting”, describing it as “one of the peculiarities of number 10” that the prime minister’s family are also in the workplace.
A Committee member pointed out that while rules at the time said work gatherings “should be socially distanced and only attended by those whose participation is absolutely necessary”, adding that photos from the event show it “wasn’t socially distanced”.
The former prime minister was asked: “Wouldn’t it have been obvious to you that this was in breach of the guidance?”
He responded “No.
“I had absolutely no sense that while this event was taking place, and indeed later on, that this evvent was in contravention of the rules or the guidance, nor did anybody suggest to me that it was.”
Johnson defends leaving do
16:08 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Mr Johnson is now being quizzed by MP Allan Dorans on a gathering at No 10 on January 14, 2021, held to mark the leaving of two officials.
The Committee has been shown a photo of the former prime minister and at least 11 other people around a table, with a number of bottles of alcohol in the middle of it
Ms Dorans say the Met Police have confirmed fixed penalty notices were issued to some people at the gathering, which breached lockdown rules.
But Mr Johnson says he does not believe the gathering did breach rules, telling Mr Dorans: “I must respectfully disagree with you very strongly.
“I know there are some bottles on the table.
“You’ve got people who work with each other every day who use that room for meetings, and who are meeting briefly to say thank you and farewell to two talented young officials.
“Those two officials were leaving and it was my job to thank them and to show that their work was appreciated.”
Thanking staff was essential, says Johnson on leaving do
16:10 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
The former prime minister has admitted “very briefly” being at the leaving gathering on January 14, 2020, but said he did not receive a fixed penalty notice for that event.
“There is nothing I can see in that photograph that strikes me as being against the rules or the guidance,” he said.
“What I actually see is people trying to stay reasonably far apart from each other. For the period I was there, it appeared to be wholly in accordance with the rules and the guidance.”
He disagreed with the committee’s suggestion the gathering was “not strictly an event about work”.
“I think it was essential to thank staff throughout the pandemic,” he said.
Johnson insists he had no knowledge of press office ‘cheese and wine' event
16:17 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Boris Johnson has insisted he had no knowledge of a Christmas “cheese and wine” gathering held on December 18, 2020, which was later widely reported in the press.
MP Allan Dorans pointed out that at the time of the meeting, social meetings of two or more people were banned while guidelines said social distancing of 2m or more should be adhered to in workplaces wherever possible.
Mr Dorans says between 25 and 40 people are said to have attended the “pre-planned press office event with cheese and wine” on December 18.
Asked if he attended, Mr Johnson said: “No. Absolutely not.”
Mr Dorans pointed out that Mr Johnson was in Downing Street that evening, and his official diary shows a gap of more than an hour, from around 7.15pm.
“I certainly did not attend that event and had no knowledge of it,” Mr Johnson insisted.
Mr Dorans suggested he would have had to pass through, or near to the gathering to access his flat.
“I certainly have no memory of seeing any kind of gathering or illicit party going on in the press room that evening,” said Mr Johnson, claiming he first knew about the event when it was brought to his attention “almost a year later”.
BSL interpreters translating committee meeting
16:18 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Two British Sign Language interpreters are translating Boris Johnson’s Privileges Committee questioning.
It follows a bid by Parliament’s broadcasting unit to increase BSL capacity to cover all Commons Questions, and Committee meetings where there is a major public interest in the session, such as today.
Johnson claims no concerns raised about ‘BYOB’ garden gathering
16:26 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Boris Johnson insisted officials did not raise concerns with him about a “bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden on May 20, 2020.
The former prime minister said he had not seen an email sent by his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds inviting staff to “socially distanced drinks”.
Mr Johnson’s communications chief Lee Cain, who told MPs he had raised concerns about the invitation with Mr Reynolds and Dominic Cummings, said it would have been “highly unusual” for him not to have also brought it up with the then prime minister, although he could not remember doing so.
Mr Johnson told the Privileges Committee that Mr Cain “attended the event and certainly no concerns were raised with me”.
He said: “I still believe it was within the guidance and within the rules.”
If Mr Cain and Mr Cummings thought it was against the rules “they would have told Martin Reynolds and it is inconceivable it would have gone ahead”, he added.
Families bereaved by Covid call on Johnson to resign
16:32 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
A spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, a campaign group of more than 6,000 people who lost relatives and friends to the virus, has said today marks “a new low” for Boris Johnson.
Rivka Gottlieb said: “Today was a new low for Boris Johnson. It’s clear he lied when he said to our faces that he’d done ‘all he could’ to protect our loved ones, he lied again when he said the rules hadn’t been broken in Number 10, and he’s lying now when he denies that was the case.
“He claims it was ‘his job’ to say goodbye to colleagues, that he ‘would have needed an electric fence’ around him to stick to the rules, and that social distancing only applied ‘when possible’.
“Did any of this apply when we couldn’t be with our loved ones for weeks as they suffered alone in care homes and hospitals, or even be there to hold their hands in their dying moments?
“Bereaved families found it painful to watch him pull his usual tricks of deflection, self-pity and blaming everyone but himself. The fact that it appears he didn’t fully understand the rules he was setting and communicating to the nation is especially galling.
“He isn’t fit for public office and if had any respect he’d resign as an MP and quietly reflect on the pain and suffering he has inflicted on so many.”
Johnson says he can now understand public outrage over ‘BYOB’ garden party
16:39 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Mr Johnson has said he understands, with hindsight, the public outrage over the so-called “bring your own booze” party held in the garden of Downing Street on May 20, 2020.
The former prime minister insisted he did not believe at the time that rules were being broken.
But he added: “I have to accept that members of the public looking at it would have thought ‘that looks like something he’s not allowing us to do’.”
He stressed he felt this “in retrospect”, adding: “I didn’t feel it at the time.”
Johnson: I was misremembering when I said Covid guidance was followed in No 10
16:49 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Boris Johnson said he had been “misremembering” the Government’s defence when he said Covid guidance was followed in No 10 during the pandemic.
The former prime minister told the Privileges Committee: “When I said the guidance had been followed completely (at) No 10, which is actually what I said, I was misremembering the line that had already been put out to the media about this event, which was ‘Covid rules were followed at all times’.
“But you’ve got to understand that I didn’t think there was any real distinction from the public’s point of view in the rules and the guidance.
“Let me put it this way: I didn’t think the public would make any… that they would expect us to follow the guidance as much as the rules.
“So even though I had said something slightly different, I still believed it was true.”
Asked why he did not correct the record afterwards, Mr Johnson replied: “I didn’t think there was any appreciable difference because it was our job to follow the guidance as much as it was to follow the rules.
“My view is that I believe we were following the guidance.”
Johnson defends not correcting the record, after saying Covid guidance followed
16:53 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Boris Johnson told MPs he did not think he should correct the record after saying Covid guidance was followed, rather than rules.
“First of all we had already begun the inquiry and I didn’t know in what sense the guidance had been broken,” he has told the Privileges Committee.
“I had no evidence that anybody had broken the guidance. It wasn’t clear to me what I would say to the House of Commons.
“Second, nobody was advising me to correct the record.”
He added that he “was talking about the totality of following the guidance” while his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds – who had advised him to delete references to the guidance in his Commons comments – was talking about “maintaining perfect social distancing”.
Former PM admits he could have communicated better with MPs
16:54 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Boris Johnson has acknowledged he could have given a fuller explanation to MPs about his view on following coronavirus guidance in No 10.
“Perhaps if I had elucidated more clearly what I meant and what I felt and believed about following the guidance, that would have helped,” he said.
Johnson defends No 10 gatherings as ‘essential’
16:56 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Asked by Tory MP Andy Carter if he thought the gatherings in No 10 were “so critical to the function of government that it was permissible to hold them even if they couldn’t be socially distanced”, Mr Johnson replied: “The short answer is yes.”
“I thought that it was essential to thank staff for their work,” he added. “Even though the pictures seem to show festive events, I think efforts – even in those pictures – are being made to do social distancing.”
Harman presses Johnson after he says ‘pens weren’t shared'
17:00 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Boris Johnson said that at gatherings, No 10 staff followed measures including avoiding physical contact, adding: We didn’t touch each other’s pens, we didn’t pass stuff to each other if we could possibly avoid it”.
His comments were made regarding a leaving party for his former spin doctor Lee Cain in November 2020.
But Privileges Committee chairwoman Harriet Harman quickly rebutted Mr Johnson’s claim, saying: “Presumably people were passing drinks to each other, because we have seen the picture.”
Mr Johnson responded: “Of course, this is guidance. I’m not going to pretend it was enforced rigidly, but that’s explicitly what the guidance provides for.”
The Lee Cain leaving drinks were in “the space where people congregated fast if I wanted to get a message out”, he said.
“Yes, you don’t see Perspex screens there but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t sanitiser and efforts to restrict the spread of Covid.”
Harman firmly criticises Johnson for ‘flimsy’ assurances to MPs
17:10 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Privileges Committee chair Harriet Harman has rounded on Boris Johnson, saying MPs were justified in their “dismay” over “flimsy” assurances he gave them about following lockdown rules.
“Would you not expect us to be a bit dismayed to hear that [that assurance] was not from the senior civil servants, it was from political appointees, [and] that they themselves had doubts about it? It only covered one gathering, it didn’t cover the other three, and it only covered the rules, it didn’t cover the guidance.
“And also you were there at the time. It’s a bit hard to understand...what the nature of an assurance is, when you’ve been there and seen it with your own eyes.
“I mean, if I was going at 100mph and I saw the speedometer saying 100mph it would be a bit odd, wouldn’t it, if I said somebody assured me that I wasn’t?
“Because it’s what you’ve seen your own eyes.
“So do you actually think that we’re entitled to be a bit dismayed about the flimsy nature of this assurance, when we took it at face value that these assurances amounted to something, and it looks from what you’ve told us...that they did not amount to much at all?”
Johnson says it would be ‘utterly insane’ for him to have lied to committee
17:13 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Boris Johnson says it would have been “utterly insane” for him to have lied to the Privileges Committee today over the partygate scandal.
He said he hopes the committee will find he “did not wittingly or recklessly mislead Parliament”, adding: “There’s not a shred of evidence that I did.
“I do not believe that you can conceivably find me guilty of wittingly misleading Parliament on the basis of the evidence that you have assembled.”
Today’s session concludes
17:24 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
The Privileges Committee meeting has now ended.
As the meeting drew to a close, Mr Johnson said: “I genuinely think it’s been a useful discussion.”
Chairwoman Harriet Harman says the committee will now consider the evidence given by Mr Johnson today, along with other evidence gathered during the inquiry, before reaching its final conclusions.
Dorries praises ‘very clear’ Johnson as MPs react to committee performance
17:30 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
As the meeting ends, MPs have begun to react to Mr Johnson’s performance before the Privileges Committee today.
Nadine Dorries, an outspoken Johnson cheerleader who he elevated into the House of Lords, described him glowingly on Twitter as “very clear”, saying she feels the committee must “totally exonerate him”.
.@BorisJohnson very clear today. Not sure there is a reasonable person in the land who would think that the committee could do anything other than totally exonerate him and not before time either.
— Rt Hon Nadine Dorries MP (@NadineDorries) March 22, 2023
Johnson leaves committee meeting after grilling from MPs
17:32 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Boris Johnson has been pictured leaving today’s lengthy meeting flanked by his supporters and legal team, after clashing in heated exchanges with senior MPs sitting on the Privileges Committee.
‘Don’t you dare say parties were necessary’ says palliative care doctor who worked on Covid frontline
18:02 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
A palliative care doctor has slammed Boris Johnson’s claims that gatherings held at No 10 during lockdown were “necessary”.
Rachel Clarke, who wrote a book about her experiences on the frontline during the devastating first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, wrote in a post on Twitter that NHS medics working during the pandemic “didn’t have parties to ‘boost morale’...didn’t have quiz nights...didn’t have champagne”.
We didn't have parties to "boost morale"
We didn't have quiz nights
We didn't have champagne
We watched our colleagues die though
We were STEEPED in death
We kept going
We had to
We kept on
So don't you DARE say your parties were "necessary" @borisjohnson
You make me sick. pic.twitter.com/cjjhBwoJ9q
— Rachel Clarke (@doctor_oxford) March 22, 2023
“We watched our colleagues die,” she wrote in the post addressed to Mr Johnson. We kept going. So don’t you DARE say your parties were ‘necessary’”.
Tory MP brands committee meeting ‘farcical'
18:49 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Tory MP Michael Fabricant has branded today’s Privileges Committee meeting “farcical”.
Mr Fabricant, a staunch supporter of Mr Johnson who previously defended his rule-breaking actions during the pandemic, said on Twitter this evening: “I thought Andy Carter and Alberto Costa asked penetrating but polite questions.
“As for the rest: one mumbled and kept interrupting; another seemed more concerned with a website that was beastly to the Committee with which #Boris has no connection…It was farcical.”
I thought Andy Carter and Alberto Costa asked penetrating but polite questions. As for the rest: one mumbled and kept interrupting; another seemed more concerned with a website that was beastly to the Committee with which #Boris has no connection…. It was farcical.
— Michael Fabricant 🇬🇧🇺🇦 (@Mike_Fabricant) March 22, 2023
Boris Johnson’s clash with the Privileges Committee: What happened?
19:56 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Boris Johnson insisted mid-pandemic gatherings in Downing Street were “essential”, as he clashed in heated exchanges with senior MPs on the Privileges Committee today.
The committee’s inquiry is probing whether Mr Johnson deliberately misled MPs, when he previously reassured the Commons that Covid rules and guidance were followed in No10 during the scandal.
The former prime minister today swore “hand on heart” to tell the truth to the committee.
In televised evidence that could determine his political future, he went on to say the series of boozy gatherings held at No10 during lockdown rules - which came to be known collectively as ‘Partygate’ - were needed to boost work morale during the pandemic.
He defended various rule-breaking events - including a birthday party held on June 19, 2020, for which he was fined - as being “necessary for work purposes”.
He said raising a toast surrounded by alcohol at a leaving do for departing communications chief Lee Cain was “not only reasonably necessary but it was essential for work purposes”.
Mr Johnson told the Privileges Committee he had been “misremembering” when claiming during partygate that rules had been followed at all times.
He accepted he misled MPs but denied doing so “recklessly”, insisting he denied lockdown breaches “in good faith” on the advice of officials, who turned out to be wrong.
But senior Tory Sir Bernard Jenkin questioned why Mr Johnson failed to take “proper advice”, which Mr Johnson angrily rejected as “complete nonsense”.
Under fiery questioning Harriet Harman, the Labour chairwoman of the Tory-majority committee, asked whether the former prime minister could see why MPs were “dismayed about the flimsy nature” of the assurances he had given them.
Mr Johnson said that he thought, at the time, the gatherings were within the rules and therefore he did not willingly mislead Parliament.
During a three-hour grilling Mr Johnson also crossed swords with Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin over the Downing Street gatherings that led to more than 100 fixed penalty notices to be issued by the police.
If Mr Johnson fails to convince the committee that he did not deliberately mislead the Commons, he could be found to have committed a contempt of Parliament.
A suspension of 10 days or more could result in a high-profile by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat.
Johnson loyalist Rees-Mogg claims former PM ‘winning in court of public opinion’
20:28 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg said Boris Johnson “has won in the court of public opinion” following his partygate inquiry grilling.
The arch-loyalist of the former prime minister told Channel 4 News: “I think that if Boris Johnson went to a by-election he would win it comfortably. Because I think he’s winning in the court of public opinion, who see this as a kangaroo court.”
He also said: “It was quite clear that he behaved properly, that he told the truth as he understood it at the time, as he had been advised. He told the truth as he perceived it.”
When it was put to him that Mr Johnson appeared rattled during the hearing, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “I thought actually he modelled himself on a cucumber and was pretty cool.”
A big day in Parliament draws to a close
22:05 , Lydia Chantler-Hicks
Here ends the Evening Standard’s politics live blog for today.
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