© Reuters. Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves his home, in London, Britain March 21, 2023. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

By Andrew MacAskill and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – Boris Johnson will face hours of questioning on Wednesday about whether he missed Britain’s parliament over rule-breaking COVID-19 lockdown parties at a hearing where the former prime minister will be fighting for his political career.

Parliament’s Committee of Privileges is investigating whether Johnson, who was ousted from Downing Street in September, intentionally or recklessly misled the House of Commons in a series of statements about the parties.

If the committee finds Johnson intentionally misled parliament, then he could be suspended. Any suspension longer than 10 days could prompt a by-election in his constituency.

The former leader, who considered an audacious bid for a second stint as prime minister last year, is due to give evidence to the committee in a televised session. He says he was not warned the events broke the rules and has accused the committee of bias.

The committee published 110 pages of evidence on Wednesday, showing that some Downing Street officials said Johnson must have known that parties had taken place despite his denials.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former top adviser, said it was “comical” the former prime minister thought a garden party in Downing Street in May 2020 was a work event.

“The PM certainly knew it was a drinks party because I told him and when he walked outside he saw a drinks party,” said Cummings, who after leaving Downing Street repeatedly called for Johnson to be ousted after they fell out.

The so-called partygate scandal ultimately contributed to the downfall of Johnson, after months of reports that he, alongside other senior government figures, had been present at alcohol-fuelled gatherings in Downing Street during 2020 and 2021 when much of the rest of Britain was forced to stay at home.

The outcry and repeated allegations of lying eventually prompted the resignations of most of his top team of government ministers, including the current prime minister, Rishi Sunak.


In new evidence published on Wednesday, the cabinet secretary Simon Case said he had never given Johnson any assurances that COVID rules had been followed in Downing Street — and that he did not know any officials who did either.

His evidence differs from Johnson’s assertion that officials repeatedly reassured him that the rules had been followed.

Another Downing Street aide said Johnson had the opportunity to “shut down” the parties, but he instead joined in making speeches and drinking with staff.

In an interim report published this month, lawmakers on the committee – made up of seven lawmakers with a majority of members from the ruling Conservative Party – said Johnson may have misled parliament on four occasions in statements about the parties in December 2021 and said the rule breaking should have been “obvious”.

In a defiant written submission to the committee, Johnson said on Tuesday he had missed parliament but insisted he “would never have dreamed” of doing so intentionally. He said Cummings bore a grudge and wanted to topple him.

Johnson described some of the allegations he faced from the committee as illogical and absurd, accusing it of being highly partisan.

In passages that are likely to form part of his defense on Wednesday, Johnson said there was no evidence that indicated he intentionally misled parliament and he was not warned that the events broke any rules.

London police fined Johnson for attending an event to celebrate his birthday in Downing Street in June 2020, making him the first prime minister found to have broken the law while in office.

Britain had one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in the world with more than 175,000 deaths by the time Johnson said he would step down as prime minister last summer.

If the committee recommends any sanctions against Johnson, they would have to be approved by parliament.

Sunak suggested this week that any vote on sanctions against Johnson would be based on lawmakers’ own beliefs rather than along party lines.

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