Johnson can get Stuffed

Today, the Privileges Committee’s report into whether or not Boris Johnson deliberately misled the House of Commons over Partygate finally hit the public domain. Given Johnson had resigned as an MP last week (and fired off an angry letter to the Committee, with various accusations of bias and witch-hunts), it was pretty inevitable that the report would not contain good news for the former prime minister, and sure enough, the report was pretty damming. A summary of it can be found here, and the full report is available here.

The highlights include:

6. We established that Mr Johnson:

a) had knowledge of the Covid Rules and Guidance

b) had knowledge of breaches of the Rules and Guidance that occurred in No. 10.

c) misled the House:

i) when he said that Guidance was followed completely in No. 10, that the Rules and Guidance were followed at all times, that events in No. 10 were within the Rules and Guidance, and that the Rules and Guidance had been followed at all times when he was present at gatherings

ii) when he failed to tell the House about his own knowledge of the gatherings where rules or guidance had been broken

iii) when he said that he relied on repeated assurances that the rules had not been broken. The assurances he received were not accurately represented by him to the House, nor were they appropriate to be cited to the House as an authoritative indication of No. 10’s compliance with Covid restrictions

iv) when he gave the impression that there needed to be an investigation by Sue Gray before he could answer questions when he had personal knowledge that he did not reveal.

v) when he purported to correct the record but instead continued to mislead the House and, by his continuing denials, this Committee

d) was deliberately disingenuous when he tried to reinterpret his statements to the House to avoid their plain meaning and reframe the clear impression that he intended to give, namely

i) when he advanced unsustainable interpretations of the Rules and Guidance to advance the argument that the lack of social distancing at gatherings was permissible within the exceptions which allowed for gatherings, and

ii) when he advanced legally impermissible reasons to justify the gatherings.

7. We took written evidence, submitted with statements of truth, from witnesses present at the relevant times, to inform us of what Mr Johnson would have known at the time of his statements to the House. We heard oral evidence under oath from Mr Johnson. In response to Mr Johnson’s proposed reliance on material that was not supported by a statement of truth, we ourselves obtained further evidence on his behalf. We relied only on first-hand evidence and not on hearsay. We considered evidence supplied by the Government, including emails, WhatsApp messages and photographs. We received a limited number of WhatsApp messages from Mr Johnson. We paid a visit to No. 10 to inspect for ourselves the locations of the various gatherings to which Mr Johnson referred in the House. We considered all of the evidence that we received and came to conclusions about the facts.

8. We took into account facts which are not in dispute because they are matters of public record, for example:

a) the words used in the Rules and Guidance

b) the words used by Mr Johnson in answer to questions in the House

c) public statements made by Mr Johnson, e.g. in press briefings at No. 10

d) the dates of gatherings.

9. In respect of factual issues which Mr Johnson disputed in his written and oral evidence:

a) we gave him notice in our Fourth Report of the likely issues arising out of the evidence we had received

b) we looked at each disputed question

c) we put that dispute to him in the oral hearing

d) we considered his answers alongside all of the other evidence.

10. We came to our conclusions about those facts having regard to the quality and reliability (including the consistency) of the evidence that we had received. The most important examples of the facts that were disputed were those relating to the gatherings which Mr Johnson attended, that is:

a) what he would have known about because he was there

b) what he saw

c) what was said

d) what the gathering was for

e) the facts relating to the assurances that he received from Jack Doyle and James Slack, who were successively appointed as Downing Street Director of Communications by Mr Johnson.

11. We established what Mr Johnson knew about the Rules and the Guidance from his own public statements. This was important because in his evidence to us Mr Johnson asserted that the meaning of the Rules and Guidance was different from the understanding of the reasonable person and from his previous public statements.

12. Having come to conclusions about the facts, we then compared those conclusions with Mr Johnson’s statements to the House and his evidence to us about those statements. We concluded that he misled the House.

13. We considered the nature and extent of Mr Johnson’s culpability in misleading the House. In coming to the conclusion that Mr Johnson deliberately misled the House, we considered:

a) His repeated and continuing denials of the facts, for example his refusal to accept that there were insufficient efforts to enforce social distancing at gatherings where a lack of social distancing is documented in official photographs, and that he neither saw nor heard anything to alert him to the breaches that occurred.

b) The frequency with which he closed his mind to those facts and to what was obvious so that eventually the only conclusion that could be drawn was that he was deliberately closing his mind.

c) The fact that he sought to re-write the meaning of the Rules and Guidance to fit his own evidence, for example, his assertion that “imperfect” social distancing was perfectly acceptable when there were no mitigations in place rather than cancelling a gathering or holding it online, and his assertion that a leaving gathering or a gathering to boost morale was a lawful reason to hold a gathering.

d) His own after-the-event rationalisations, for example the nature and extent of the assurances he received, the words used, the purpose of the assurances, who they came from, the warning he received about that from Martin Reynolds (his Principal Private Secretary) and his failure to take advice from others whose advice would have been authoritative. His view about his own Fixed Penalty Notice (that he was baffled as to why he received it) is instructive.

The Committee’s report confirms that Boris Johnson knew he had breached lockdown restrictions, and that he proceeded to lie about it to the House of Commons. This is not a shock. If Johnson’s lips are moving, it’s reasonable to assume he is lying. Truth is anathema to the man. His reaction to the report speaks volumes about his lack of integrity. Johnson’s narcissism renders him in capable of understanding that he has done something wrong. He lacks empathy, self-awareness and humility. Never has someone been so ill-equipped for public office, yet he managed to somehow fail upwards, with the country paying a terrible cost for his failures.

With luck, we can now draw a line under his terrible time as PM, and at the next General Election, kick the Tories to the curb.

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