BORIS Johnson has told the committee of MPs probing his integrity over Partygate that the "unsocially distanced farewell gatherings" in No 10 were "absolutely essential for work purposes."

In a bullish appearance in front of the Privileges Committee, the ousted prime minister insisted he and his officials were trying their best to follow the rules and guidance.

However, the committee kept pushing the ex-Tory leader on whether he took proper advice from senior officials and experts.

That he failed to do so could see him accused of recklessly misleading parliament when he repeatedly assured the Commons that lockdown rules had been followed.

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In an interim report published earlier this month, the committee said messages between No 10 staff meant it should have been obvious to Mr Johnson that Covid rules were being broken.

Last year, the Metropolitan Police issued 126 fines to 83 people, including Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak, for breaches of the pandemic laws. 

In his opening statement, Mr Johnson said "hand on heart" he did not lie to MPs about Partygate.

He described No 10 as a "cramped, narrow 18th Century townhouse" and said it was often difficult to properly social distance.

He said he and his staff had followed the guidance "to the best of our ability".


Mr Johnson told the committee: "When this inquiry was set up I was completely confident that you would find nothing to show that I knew or believed anything else, as indeed you have not.


"I was confident, not because there has been some kind of cover-up. I was confident because I knew that was what I believed and that is why I said it."


He said he would "believe till the day I die that it was my job to thank staff for what they had done, especially during a crisis like Covid, which kept coming back, which seemed to have no end."


When questioned about a photo of one of the events in November 2020, which shows the him toasting staff with a drink as they gathered closely, he said: "I believe it was absolutely essential for work purposes."


He said the meeting, which happened while social distancing was in place, was "necessary" because two senior members of staff were about to leave "in potentially acrimonious circumstances".

"I accept that perfect social distancing is not being observed but that does not mean that what we were doing is incompatible with the guidance," he added.


READ MORE: Boris Johnson admits misleading MPs over Partygate

When asked if he believed exceptions to the workplace rules and social distancing guidelines applied to No 10 but not to hospitals and care homes, he said: "Of course not."


He was also questioned about the surprise birthday thrown for him by his wife Carrie. It resulted in the two of them and Rishi Sunak receiving a £50 fixed-penalty notice.

Another person at the gathering was Lulu Lytle, the interior decorator who had been working on renovations in the No 10 flat. 

Questioned by MPs on the Privileges Committee, Mr Johnson said he was joined by his “wife and son and, yes, there was a contractor who was working in the building”.

He explained: “I had come back from a long external work visit, I thought it was reasonably necessary for work purposes because I was standing at my desk surrounded by officials who had been asked to come and wish me happy birthday,” Mr Johnson told MPs.

“I had only just recently recovered from an illness, from Covid, and it seemed to me to be a perfectly proper thing to do.

“We were about to have another meeting and they were very largely the same officials.”

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He said Mr Sunak, now Prime Minister, would have been “just as surprised as I was” about the fines they received.

“I thought it was a completely innocent event,” Mr Johnson said. “It did not strike me as anything other than an ordinary common or garden workplace event.”

Mr Johnson insisted the birthday gathering consisted of only mild festivities.

READ MORE: Sunak's Stormont brake backed in Commons despite Tory rebellion

He added: “No one sang, the famous Union Jack cake remained in its Tupperware box, unnoticed by me, and was later discovered and eaten by my private secretaries.”

He said a “slightly exaggerated” version of the event was briefed to The Times “with singing and cake eating” and yet nothing untoward was detected “either by the reporter or by millions of eagle-eyed readers”.

Tory member of the committee, Sir Bernard Jenkin asked him what he would have said if he had been asked what he would say to any business that wanted to hold “unsocially distanced farewell gatherings” during lockdown.

Mr Johnson replied: "I would have said it is up to organisations, as the guidance says, to decide how they are going to implement the guidance amongst them.

"Where they can’t do social distancing perfectly, they can’t maintain two metres or one metre, they are entitled to have mitigations. And we did indeed have plenty of mitigations.

Mr Johnson said No 10 staff "didn’t touch each other’s pens, we didn’t pass stuff to each other if we could possibly avoid it”.

Privileges Committee chairwoman Harriet Harman said: “Presumably people were passing drinks to each other because we have seen the picture.”

Mr Johnson said: “Of course, this is guidance. I’m not going to pretend it was enforced rigidly, but that’s explicitly what the guidance provides for.”

Sir Bernard asked Mr Johnson if he sought “proper advice” about the party allegations.

The former prime minister replied: “Nobody raised with me or had any concern before I stood up on December 1 about those events.”

Told by the senior Tory committee member that he did not ask for further advice, Mr Johnson said: “This is complete nonsense, I mean, complete nonsense.

“I asked the relevant people. They were senior people. They had been working very hard.

“[Director of communications] Jack Doyle gave me a clear account of what had happened.”

Mr Johnson insisted it was his “impression” that guidance had been followed.

If he fails to convince the committee that he did not deliberately or recklessly mislead the Commons, he could be found to in contempt of Parliament.

That could lead him to being suspended. If he's kicked out of the Commons for more than ten days that could potentially trigger a by-election.

SNP Westminster Deputy Leader Mhairi Black said the hearing was "utterly excruciating for Boris Johnson, whose mask slipped under interrogation and whose absurd claims were exposed as not remotely credible."

She added: "Most people watching will conclude it's now beyond doubt that the Tory former Prime Minister not only broke the law but also deliberately misled Parliament.

"If the Privileges Committee does conclude that Boris Johnson misled parliament, then Rishi Sunak will have no choice but to withdraw the whip permanently - or he will show he's weak, unprincipled and lacks the integrity to be Prime Minister.

"The growing stench of Tory sleaze and corruption shows the Westminster system is broken beyond repair. With the pro-Brexit, pro-cuts Labour Party little more than a pound shop Tory tribute act, it's clear independence is the only way for Scotland to escape Westminster control and deliver the real change we need."