Published: 2023-03-22 17:39
Last Updated: 2023-06-07 08:11
Britain's former prime minister Boris Johnson re-enters the bear pit of parliamentary inquisition on Wednesday for a grilling about "Partygate" that could decide his political future, reported AFP.
In July, the end of Johnson's three years in 10 Downing Street played out in another parliamentary committee hearing, while outside the room his government was collapsing in a wave of ministerial resignations.
Voters' anger at the scandal about serial partying at Downing Street, in breach of Covid lockdown laws, was one backdrop to the resignations.
But Johnson's supporters insist he was betrayed by Conservative colleagues, and are campaigning for his return ahead of a general election likely next year.
Opinion polls suggest that Johnson remains toxic for a large swathe of the electorate, and Wednesday's hearing by the cross-party privileges committee will reopen old wounds just as his successor, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, mounts a turnaround bid.
If the committee decides that Johnson lied to parliament about the parties, it could recommend his suspension from the House of Commons.
If the full House agrees to a suspension of more than 10 sitting days, that could trigger a special election for his northwest London seat, if enough voters demand one.
- 'Culture' -
This month, the committee found in an interim report that Johnson should have known the rules were being flouted.
It released previously unseen photographs and also published WhatsApp messages showing senior aides struggling to come up with a public justification for the parties.
Hours before Wednesday's televised hearing, it published a larger 110-page bundle of evidence.
It includes a Downing Street official stating that Johnson "often saw and joined" gatherings in the complex during lockdowns and that "he had the opportunity to shut them down".
"He could see what was happening and allowed the culture to continue," the official added.
Johnson's former senior adviser Martin Reynolds also states that ahead of "Prime Minister's Questions" in early December 2021, he questioned him "whether it was realistic to argue that all guidance had been followed at all times".
Meanwhile, the evidence shows Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, Britain's most senior civil servant, denying he ever assured Johnson that Covid rules were followed at all times.
On Tuesday, Johnson released his own 52-page dossier detailing his belief that he was truthful when he repeatedly told parliament that all regulations were respected.
In hindsight, he recognised that he did "mislead" MPs, but only inadvertently and based on assurances given by top aides that the rules had been followed.
"I did not intentionally or recklessly mislead the House" on any date, he wrote.
"I would never have dreamed of doing so."
- 'Shame' -
Johnson was fined by police for one gathering, along with Sunak, his finance minister at the time, while dozens of other staff received fines.
The former Conservative leader apologized and corrected the parliamentary record last May after previously insisting to MPs that the gatherings were above board.
Johnson said that correction came at the earliest opportunity -- after London police and senior civil servant Sue Gray had concluded their own investigations.
Johnson, 58, nearly died himself of Covid, but relatives of patients who died said his claims were a brazen attempt to evade responsibility.
"Johnson's defense continues to highlight his lack of shame and humility," said Kathryn de Prudhoe, a psychotherapist whose father died early in the pandemic.
"The victims in all of this are families like mine who lost loved ones... people who lost their jobs, livelihoods and homes or their mental health because they followed the rules that he made, but couldn't stick to," she said.
The successive waves of Covid from 2020 claimed the lives of more than 220,000 people in Britain, the second-worst toll in Europe behind Russia's.
A public inquiry is looking into the government's overall response, and is likely to take years.
Despite having a Conservative majority, the privileges committee has been accused by Johnson loyalists of pursuing a "witch hunt", and in his dossier, Johnson accused its members of being partisan and straying beyond their remit.
The committee defended the "fairness of its processes", adding Johnson's written submission "contains no new documentary evidence."