Boris Johnson and the Committee on Privileges: key moments

In a packed committee room at Portcullis House, the former prime minister faced off with his interrogators as he endured lengthy questioning about his earlier remarks at the Downing Street meetings.

Here are some of the key moments from Wednesday’s proceedings:

– Five lots of Boris

The committee opened with archive footage from the House of Commons camera, featuring some of Mr Johnson’s key comments to the Commons, including his responses to Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer’s questions in December 2021, reproduced on room.

For a few brief minutes, Mr. Johnson’s face and words were broadcast from five large screens, though the real-life Mr. Johnson seemed largely uninterested, instead leafing through his packet of papers.

– First raised eyebrows

The first set of comments that caught the attention of committee members was when Johnson asked the committee to publish all the evidence it had gathered “so that Parliament and the public can judge for themselves.”

Boris Johnson testifying before the House of Commons Committee on Privileges
Boris Johnson testifying before the House of Commons Committee on Privileges (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)

He told MPs: “Despite my repeated requests, the committee has refused to do this.

“As an investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury, you have chosen to release only the evidence you believe to be incriminating and not the evidence I rely on that supports the charges.”

Those comments caused Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin to look up in apparent surprise, while committee chair Harriet Harman appeared to make eye contact with a colleague to her left as she made the remarks.

– Dissatisfied audience

Johnson had a cohort of enthusiastic supporters who remained in the room for most of the proceedings.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir James Duddridge, Lia Nici and Michael Fabricant were a constant presence in the room, while Labor MP Sir Chris Bryant, who recused himself from the partygate investigation, sat in a corner of the room.

As the proceedings progressed, passing the three-hour mark, it seemed that some were growing increasingly frustrated by the committee’s line of questioning.

At one point, when Sir Charles Walker began his questioning after a particularly testy exchange between Sir Bernard and Mr Johnson, he felt the need to object amid some muttering in the back of the room.

“There are noises coming from the back of the room, has that stopped?” she asked.

– And if?

There was some laughter at various stages of the proceedings, but an exchange between Mr Johnson and Sir Bernard caused a loud laugh from the back of the committee room.

While Sir Bernard and the former PM had some slightly scathing exchanges over the course of the proceedings, one in particular saw the veteran MP suggest that the former PM could have avoided all the trouble by giving a fuller account to Parliament. .

Johnson said: “Why did I believe, when I stood up on December 1, that the guidance was fully followed at all times in number 10, what image was in my head and why doesn’t that conflict with that image? (from Lee Cain goes away do) – The answer is that I knew from direct personal experience that we were doing a big event to stop the spread of Covid inside the building.

“We had sanitizers, windows were kept open, we had people working outside where they could, we had Zoom meetings, we had restrictions on the number of people in rooms, we had plexiglass screens between desks, and most of all, we had testing, regular testing, which went well beyond what the guidance described and which, in my opinion, helped mitigate the difficulties we had in maintaining perfect social distancing.”

Sir Bernard said: “I am bound to say that if you said all that to the House of Commons then we probably wouldn’t be sitting here. But you did not.

At another point, Sir Bernard also drew loud laughter from those watching the proceedings when, to what appeared to be a clearing of his throat from Mr Johnson about the role of Sue Gray’s evidence in the proceedings and a debate on a point of contention, he said : “We are not trusting Sue Gray’s evidence, isn’t that ironic?

– ‘Succinct’

The chair of the committee, Harriet Harman, struck up a rather effective partnership with Sir Bernard, seated to her left.

Downing Street Party Gate
Committee Chair Harriet Harman (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)

At one point Sir Bernard showed something on his phone to Ms Harman while Mr Johnson was testifying.

At another point, she turned and whispered to Sir Bernard with her hand over her mouth, smiling.

But Johnson’s lengthy responses seemed to test his patience. Early in the process, when Johnson was questioned about one of the meetings, she intervened, asking him to give “succinct” answers.

At another stage, when Johnson pressed the committee chair for evidence that some attendees, including then-communications director Jack Doyle, had expressed doubts about whether Covid guidance was followed, she snapped back: “It’s on WhatsApp. “.

He repeatedly intervened if he thought the former prime minister was straying from the path.

– ‘No great vice’

In a particularly tense exchange with Sir Bernard, Johnson was asked about his comments that it was “no great vice” to rely on political advisers for assurances before making statements in the House.

Sir Bernard expressed surprise that Johnson, if there was “the slightest doubt” as to whether the rules were followed, would not have sought the advice of public officials or government lawyers.

“If I were accused of breaking the law and had to compromise with Parliament… I would like the advice of a lawyer,” Sir Bernard told him.

Mr. Johnson, raising his voice and pointing, was annoyed by the question.

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

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


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