Johnson says he believed ‘implicitly’ he was following COVID rules during lockdown gatherings

Boris Johnson says he believed “implicitly” that he was following COVID rules after a committee of MPs said it would have been “obvious” they were being broken around him at Downing Street gatherings.

He also suggested that Sue Gray, who led an earlier civil service report into parties and has just been appointed Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff, had a “political axe to grind”.

Speaking following the committee of MPs’ initial 24-page report, Mr Johnson said there was “nothing to show, I myself the leader, was worried anything was against the rules”.

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“I believed what we were doing was within the conformity of the COVID regulations,” he said, before adding: “I believe implicitly that these events were within the rules.”

He continued: “There’s been no contempt here.”

The MPs’ report looks at whether Mr Johnson misled the House of Commons when responding to the partygate allegations.

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Members of the cross-party Commons Privileges Committee launched their investigation into the former prime minister’s statements in April last year, after MPs voted for an investigation.

Mr Johnson had been called to give oral evidence to the committee in the week of 20 March.

The report said: “The evidence strongly suggests that breaches of guidance would have been obvious to Mr Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings.

“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.”

Mr Johnson repeatedly denied COVID lockdown rules were broken at Number 10 when asked in the Commons.

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1 December 2021, when asked by Sir Keir Starmer if rules were broken: “All guidance was followed completely in No 10.”

8 December 2021, when asked whether there was a party in Downing Street on 13 November 2020: “I have been repeatedly reassured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no COVID rules were broken.

“I am sickened, myself, and furious about that. But I have repeatedly been reassured that the rules were not broken.

“The guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.”

The committee said it will consider why Mr Johnson told MPs no guidance had been broken “when he knew what the guidance was and was in attendance at gatherings where the guidance was breached”.

It will also look into “why he failed to tell the House about the gatherings at which he had been present”.

Misleading parliament could result in Mr Johnson being suspended from the Commons for 10 days, which could trigger a recall petition. If 10% of voters in his Uxbridge constituency sign a petition he could lose his job as an MP as a by-election would have to take place.

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Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson was facing “pretty damning” evidence of wrongdoing.

The leader of the opposition also used this opportunity to bring Rishi Sunak’s fine back to the fore.

He said: “I think it is important to bear in mind that Rishi Sunak, at the time, was obviously very close to all of this and sat on his hands.

“And I think, first and foremost, of the families – not just those who lost loved ones, but also all of the families who were obeying the rules, changing their lives while those in government were not following their own rules.

“And I think that, having been sitting on his hands through all that, Rishi Sunak, who of course got fined in this process, is under a very heavy obligation now to ensure that we move forward as fast as we can with the COVID inquiry and he absolutely acts on any recommendations that come in the interim.”