From dismissing enquiries as a "Daily Mirror try-on" to saying Simon Case "would have" said Covid guidance was followed, here are 10 standout quotes from yesterday's Partygate hearing
Johnson admits no senior civil servant told him Covid rules were being followed…
Asked if cabinet secretary Simon Case or any senior “career civil servant” had assured him that Covid rules were followed, Johnson said: “I don’t remember being specifically assured by any senior civil servant about the rules or guidance within No.10 but the interesting thing is that to the contrary, nobody gave me any contrary advice.”
Pressed on why he had instead relied on the assurances of political advisers, Johnson said those were the people who had been present at the gatherings in question. They were therefore best placed to give an opinion on the legality of events, which “I didn’t think a non-eyewitness would be able to do”, he said.
…but says Simon Case would have backed him
“If you had asked Simon Case or any of the senior officials… ‘were we flouting the guidance in No.10?’, they’d have said no. We were following the guidance but with mitigations and with social distancing where possible, as specified in the guidance,” Johnson said.
Johnson blames Sedwill’s resignation for lockdown party – a month before that cab sec resigned
Asked about a cheese and wine event held in the Downing Street garden in May 2020, Johnson said: “My purpose there was to thank staff, was to motivate them in what had been a very difficult time – and what was also a very difficult day in which the cabinet secretary had just resigned.”
However, Mark Sedwill did not write his resignation letter until 28 June.
Johnson says he will 'believe until the day I die' it was his job to thank staff
Grilling Johnson on the same event, Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin said Covid guidance in place at the time “does not say you can have a thank you party”.
Johnson replied: “I know people will look at those events and think they look like the very kind of events that we, or I, were forbidding to everyone else. But I will believe until the day I die it was my job to thank staff for what they had done, especially during Covid, which kept coming back, and where people’s morale did, I’m afraid, begin to sink.”
Johnson says his wife was “entitled” to be at his birthday-cake gathering
Johnson said a gathering in No.10 in June 2020 at which he was presented with a birthday cake was "reasonably necessary for work purposes" because officials were wishing him a happy birthday. "I’d only recently recovered from an illness, from Covid, and it seemed to me to be a perfectly proper thing to do,” he told MPs.
But asked why his wife Carrie Johnson and interior designer Lulu Lytle were there, Johnson told the MPs: "It is one of the peculiarities of No.10 that the PM and his family live in the same building and my understanding of the rules is that the family is entitled to use that building and use every part of that building."
Johnson names two officials who are supposed to be anonymous
Johnson named two officials who were supposed to have been kept anonymous. He then appeared to justify doing so on the basis that he had called them “talented”.
"Sorry, forgive me, I shouldn't mention the names of the officials. I've said they're talented. But anyway," he said.
Johnson says leaving do was “essential”
Johnson also argued that it was “not only reasonably necessary but it was essential for work purposes” for him to raise a toast to Lee Cain at the comms chief’s leaving do in November 2020, because Cain and political adviser Dominic Cummings were departing in “potentially acrimonious circumstances”.
"This meeting happened on an impromptu basis, it had to happen,” he said, adding: "It was important for me to be there and to give reassurance."
Johnson tries to drag Rishi Sunak into Partygate controversy
Johnson was pressed repeatedly by the committee on why he felt a gathering in No.10 to mark his birthday was – as he told the committee – “reasonably necessary for work purposes”. Johnson and then-chancellor Rishi Sunak both received £50 fixed penalty notices for the lockdown-breaking event, along with his wife Carrie, who also attended.
"If it was obvious that these events were contrary to the rules it must have been unquestionably obvious to some of the most senior officials in the country and it must have been obvious to others in the building, including the current prime minister," he said.
Johnson dismisses concern about Partygate events as ‘Daily Mirror try-on’
When journalists contacted No.10 about reports of a Christmas party in 2020, Johnson dismissed it as a "Daily Mirror try-on", he said.
He pushed back against the committee’s suggestion that he should not have relied on what advisers told him about whether Covid rules had been followed at the event.
"This is ridiculous, I was the prime minister of the UK, I was trying to run the country during a pandemic. On the evening in question, November 30 2021, I was dealing with the emergence of the Omicron variant and the growing clamour for restrictions on another Christmas,” he said.
"I could not drop what I was doing, get up and institute a personal investigation into what sounded like a Daily Mirror try-on about an event that was now almost a year old.
"I had to rely on and was fully entitled to rely on what I was told by my senior trusted advisers. The government would be paralysed if ministers were not able to do so."
Johnson says he will only consider the committee “fair” if it exonerates him
The former PM was challenged on the language used by some of his supporters to suggest that the Privileges Committee was being unfair.
Asked by Alberto Costa to reassure that committee that “you wouldn’t characterise it as a witch hunt or a kangaroo court”, Johnson said: “I deprecate the terms you have used, I do not want to see good colleagues feeling that they are under pressure either way.”
But he said he would only think the committee fair if it absolved him of misleading parliament. “I believe that if you study this evidence impartially you will come to the conclusion I have given,” he said.
He added: “People will judge for themselves, on the basis of the evidence you have produced, the fairness of this committee. I have every confidence you will show that you can be fair.”