Friday, March 03, 2023

Privileges Committee finds Boris Johnson may have misled the House of Commons

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The Commons Privileges Committee has published the report of its investigation into whether Boris Johnson misled the House of Commons over his office's compliance with Covid laws while he was prime minister.

You can download the whole report yourself.

It concludes:

There is evidence that the House of Commons may have been misled in the following ways which the Committee will explore:

a) It may have been misled when Mr Johnson said on 8 December 2021 that no rules or guidance had been broken in No. 10. The second permanent secretary and the Metropolitan police have already come to the conclusion that was not correct, including in relation to specific gatherings for which Mr Johnson asserted this was the case.

b) It may have been misled when Mr 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.

c) It may have been misled when Mr Johnson said on 8 December 2021 that he relied upon repeated assurances that the rules had not been broken. Initial evidence to us suggested Mr Johnson was assured by two individuals who had worked at No. 10 at the time that they did not think the gathering of 18 December 2020 had broken Covid rules.

However, we note that:

i) Mr Johnson had personal knowledge about gatherings which he could have disclosed, although his personal knowledge about the gathering of 18 December 2020 may have been limited as he did not personally attend.

ii) We have received evidence that there was no assurance about any gathering’s compliance with the guidance that was in place at the time (as opposed to compliance with the Covid rules).

iii) The purported assurances were only about the gathering of 18 December 2020, not more generally about No. 10’s compliance with the rules and guidance. We have received no evidence that an assurance was provided in relation to the specific gatherings of 20 May 2020, 19 June 2020, 13 November 2020, 27 November 2020 and 14 January 2021.

iv) The context for the initial purported assurance was in response to a media inquiry and the assertion that Covid rules were followed was initially developed as a media line to take.

v) The initial purported assurance came from the director of communications at No. 10, a special adviser appointed by Mr Johnson, not a permanent civil servant.

vi) The purported assurances consisted only of what those individuals themselves believed about the compliance of the gathering of 18 December 2020 with the rules.

Whether those who gave these purported assurances to Mr Johnson ever intended for him to rely upon them in the House, and whether it was appropriate for Mr Johnson to do so, is a question the Committee will want to consider.

d) It may have been misled when Mr Johnson gave the impression that there needed to be an investigation by the second permanent secretary to establish whether the rules and guidance had been broken before he could answer questions to the house. While repeatedly making that statement to the house he appears to have had personal knowledge that he did not reveal.

Boris Johnson will appear before the committee in the week commencing 20 March.

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