March 5. 2024. 9:04

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Johnson concedes to misleading UK parliament in partygate inquiry evidence

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson’s evidence to the Privileges Committee has been published.

Mr Johnson says in his evidence that he accepts he misled the UK’s House of Commons when he said lockdown rules had been followed in No 10 but insisted the statements were made “in good faith”.

Mr Johnson conceded in his evidence to the Privileges Committee that his statements to parliament “did not turn out to be correct”, but insisted he corrected the record at “the earliest opportunity”.

“It is of course true that my statements to parliament that the Rules and Guidance had been followed at all times did not turn out to be correct, and I take this opportunity to apologise to the House for that,” he said.

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“As soon as the Sue Gray investigation and the Metropolitan Police investigation had been concluded, I corrected the record. I believed – and I still believe – that this was the earliest opportunity at which I could make the necessary correction.

“It was not fair or appropriate to give a half-baked account, before the facts had been fully and properly established, including into many events about which I had no personal knowledge.”

Earlier, British prime minister Rishi Sunak said Conservative MPs will be allowed to make decisions “as individuals” on any sanctions to be applied to Mr Johnson following the Privileges Committee inquiry.

Mr Sunak indicated that Tory MPs will be given a free vote on the matter, in advance of Mr Johnson’s appearance before the cross-party committee on Wednesday.

Mr Sunak confirmed he will not tell his MPs how to vote on any sanctions that may be recommended by the committee, telling BBC Breakfast: “These are matters for parliament and the House and MPs as individuals, rather than for Government. So that is the general process that we will follow.”

The prime minister declined to say whether he agreed with some of Mr Johnson’s allies that the process was a “witch hunt”, telling the programme: “That’s ultimately something for Boris Johnson and he’ll have the committee process to go through and that’s a matter for parliament. That’s not what I’m focused on.”

Mr Johnson was first asked to provide a written submission in July last year, but provided it 48 hours before his televised questioning by the committee on Wednesday afternoon.

The committee confirmed it received the evidence, key to Mr Johnson’s political future, at 2.32pm on Monday.

A spokesman for the panel of MPs said: “The committee will need to review what has been submitted in the interests of making appropriate redactions to protect the identity of some witnesses.

“The committee intends to publish this as soon as is practicably possible. The material will be published on the committee website.”

If Mr Johnson fails to convince the committee he did not deliberately mislead parliament, he could be found to have committed a contempt of parliament and receive a suspension. Such a move could ultimately end in a by-election.

An ally of the Conservative MP said his defence had been handed over on Monday “as planned”, adding: “The committee control the timing of publication. We encourage them to publish it as soon as possible.”

The defence is expected to take the form of a lengthy submission from Mr Johnson’s barrister, Lord Pannick KC.

The hearing clashes with a key vote on Mr Sunak’s new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland, which Democratic Unionist Party MPs plan to oppose.

An estimated £220,000 of taxpayers’ money has been allocated for Mr Johnson’s legal bills.

If the committee rules that he did mislead the House, they will consider whether it was “reckless or intentional” and amounted to a contempt of parliament.

An interim report by the committee earlier this month said evidence strongly suggested breaches of Covid-19 lockdown rules would have been “obvious” to the then prime minister.

The Privileges Committee is examining evidence around at least four occasions when Mr Johnson may have misled MPs with his assurances to the Commons that lockdown rules were followed.

The committee will publish its findings on whether the former prime minister committed a contempt of parliament and make a recommendation on any punishment, but the ultimate decision will fall to the full House of Commons. – PA