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5 key takeaways from ‘partygate’ report that found Boris Johnson deliberately misled UK Parliament

LONDON (AP) — A U.K. parliamentary committee on Thursday issued a damning report concluding that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson deliberately misled lawmakers over what he knew about multiple lockdown-flouting parties at his office and government buildings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers voted in April 2022 for the seven-member panel to investigate Johnson’s conduct over “partygate,” a series of boozy gatherings attended by Johnson and his staff that broke rules and eventually contributed to his downfall.

Here are the key points of the report:

WHAT WAS THE COMMITTEE TASKED TO DO?

The seven lawmakers — including four from Johnson’s Conservatives and three from opposition parties — examined what Johnson told the House of Commons about gatherings in Downing Street in 2020 and 2021.

If a statement was misleading, the committee said it considered whether it was a “genuine error or was intentional or reckless,” and whether the record was corrected in good time.

The committee said the investigation “goes to the very heart of our democracy.” “Misleading the House is not a technical issue, but a matter of great importance,” it said.

WHAT GATHERINGS WERE THERE?

The report detailed evidence of six gatherings that took place in government buildings at a time when Johnson frequently appeared on television urging people to stick to strict social distancing rules.

The events included send-off parties for staff and a Christmas “drinks event with cheese and wine.” Johnson attended some of them, including:

— May 20, 2020: A gathering in the garden of Downing Street where alcohol was provided and staff were encouraged to “bring your own booze!” Johnson’s private secretary had invited more than 200 people.

— June 19, 2020: A gathering in the Cabinet Room to celebrate Johnson’s birthday. A cake and alcohol were provided. Photos showed at least 17 other people were there. Johnson and others were later fined by police.

WHAT DID JOHNSON SAY ABOUT THE EVENTS?

Johnson told Parliament that COVID rules and guidance had been followed at all times at Downing Steet. He claimed he relied on “repeated assurances” from advisors that rules had not been broken.

He also told lawmakers and the committee that he believed the events were “essential” for work purposes, namely to boost staff morale.

WHAT DID THE COMMITTEE CONCLUDE?

The committee concluded that as the “most prominent public promoter” of the government’s COVID rules and guidance, Johnson knew what wasn’t allowed at the time, and knew about breaches of such rules at Downing Street.

It was highly unlikely that he could have genuinely believed that rules were being followed, it said.

It added he misled Parliament, and failed to tell lawmakers about his own knowledge of the rule-breaking gatherings. Johnson was “deliberately disingenuous when he tried to reinterpret his statements to the House to avoid their plain meaning,” it said.

“We came to the view that some of Mr Johnson’s denials and explanations were so disingenuous that they were by their very nature deliberate attempts to mislead the Committee and the House, while others demonstrated deliberation because of the frequency with which he closed his mind to the truth,” the report said. “We conclude that Mr Johnson’s conduct was deliberate and that he has committed a serious contempt of the House.”

The panel said Johnson committed a further serious contempt of Parliament for breaching confidentiality requirements in his resignation statement and attacking the panel with abusive language including “kangaroo court” and “witch hunts.” It said his behavior amounted to “an attack on our democratic institutions.”

WHAT WERE THE RECOMMENDED SANCTIONS?

The committee said Johnson should be suspended from the House of Commons for 90 days for repeated contempts and for seeking to undermine the parliamentary process. But Johnson avoided suspension when he quit last Friday as lawmaker, pre-empting the report’s publication.

The panel also said he should be stripped of a former member’s pass to Parliament’s grounds.

Lawmakers will vote Monday on whether they will uphold the committee’s recommendations. Johnson’s allies could yet propose amendments to lighten the proposed sanctions. And even if the sanctions are upheld, they would not bar Johnson from seeking to run again as a lawmaker in the future.

Sylvia Hui, The Associated Press





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