Boris Johnson says he “unconditionally believed” he was following the Covid rules when he held Downing Street meetings during the lockdown.
Addressing a committee of MPs over claims he misled Parliament about partygates, the former prime minister said it would be “obvious” if rules were broken around him at Downing Street assemblies.
Mr Johnson said that “after 10 months of effort and sifting”, the privileges committee found “absolutely no evidence” to suggest otherwise.
He said there was “absolutely nothing” to indicate that any of his advisers or other civil servants warned that the events would be in violation of COVID rules.
“It’s certainly quite an astonishing difference considering the sheer amount of stuff they have,” he said.
“Honestly, not all the testimonials they have come from people who are necessarily on my side.”
Mr Johnson suggested that the “reason there was no evidence” that he believed illegal events was because he “thought we were fighting COVID the best we could under very difficult circumstances.”
When asked about the photos in the commission’s report that show Mr Johnson in rooms with people who did not practice social distancing, he reiterated that he did not believe any rules had been broken.
“You have to remember what it’s like to be Prime Minister,” he says.
“You do what your officials tell you.
“You go from one event to another … (have) a massively organized journal. As everyone knows, there have been a lot of events that I went to very briefly to thank the staff and things like that.
Mr Johnson also suggested that Sue Gray, who ran an earlier civil service report at Partygate and had just been appointed as Sir Keir Starmer’s new chief of staff, had a “political ax to grind” against him.
“I’m sure people may want to draw their own conclusions about the trust they can place in her motives and in the way she conducted the investigation and in her report,” he said.
“I think people can look at it in a different light.
“If you had told me when I commissioned Sue Gray to investigate, if you had told me everything I know now, I think I might have questioned her more about her independence.
“I could have invited her to consider if she really was the right person for this.”
The Parliamentary Commission for Privileges, which is investigating the allegations, today issued an update to its investigation ahead of Mr. Johnson’s public oral testimony in the week beginning March 20.
The group, whose investigation is being led by Labor MP Harriet Harman, said: “The evidence strongly suggests a breach of the guidelines would have been obvious to Mr Johnson at the time he was at the assemblies.”
The commission also cited two WhatsApp messages which they say show “proof that those advising Mr Johnson what to say to the press and in the House have themselves struggled to claim that some gatherings are within the rules.”
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