'I raised a glass but that was it': Boris Johnson's 52-page Partygate defence

The former PM hopes to protect his political future, Political Editor Robert Peston reports. Words by Lewis Denison, ITV News Westminster Producer

A dossier of evidence Boris Johnson hopes will protect his political future has been released ahead of a grilling over whether he lied to Parliament about Partygate.

The 52-page document, passed to the Privileges Committee ahead of four hours of questioning on Wednesday, insists he did not "recklessly" or "intentionally" mislead MPs with his claims that Covid rules were not broken on Downing Street.

In the dossier - produced by a tax-payer funded legal team said to be costing over £200,000 - the former PM says he accepts he misled the House of Commons when he said lockdown rules had been followed in No 10 but insisted the statements were made "in good faith".

The Privileges Committee, however, said Mr Johnson's written submission "contains no new documentary evidence".

If the Committee finds he did mislead MPs in a reckless or intentional way, he could face a Parliamentary punishment which may see him lose his Commons seat.

How is Boris Johnson defending himself?

In his written evidence to the Privileges Committee, Mr Johnson writes: "So I accept that the House of Commons was misled by my statements that the Rules and Guidance had been followed completely at No 10.

"But when the statements were made, they were made in good faith and on the basis of what I honestly knew and believed at the time. I did not intentionally or recklessly mislead the House on December 1 2021, December 8 2021, or on any other date. I would never have dreamed of doing so."

He conceded in his evidence to the Privileges Committee that his statements to Parliament "did not turn out to be correct", but insisted he corrected the record at "the earliest opportunity".

"It is of course true that my statements to Parliament that the Rules and Guidance had been followed at all times did not turn out to be correct, and I take this opportunity to apologise to the House for that," he said.

"As soon as the Sue Gray investigation and the Metropolitan Police investigation had been concluded, I corrected the record. I believed - and I still believe - that this was the earliest opportunity at which I could make the necessary correction.

"It was not fair or appropriate to give a half-baked account, before the facts had been fully and properly established, including into many events about which I had no personal knowledge."

Mr Johnson defended attending leaving parties in Downing Street, saying: "I might raise a glass to honour a colleague, but that was it."

"At the time I was recovering from a serious illness, I was desperately worried about the state of the country, and I was going back to my flat to continue working," he said in his evidence to the Privileges Committee, adding that he was never at such events for more than half an hour.

"When I looked around the room, I did not think anyone was breaking any rules or guidance: on the contrary, I thought that we were all doing our job."

And it was his "duty" as the prime minister to "say a few words of thanks" to those departing, Mr Johnson said.

Mr Johnson added that "there is no evidence at all that supports an allegation that I intentionally or recklessly misled the House".

"There is not a single document that indicates that I received any warning or advice that any event broke or may have broken the Rules or Guidance," he said in his evidence to the Privileges Committee.

He added the Committee "appears to be mounting a case that, despite the absence of any evidence of warnings or advice, it should have been 'obvious' to me that the Rules and Guidance were not being followed, because of the gatherings that I attended.

"It is important to be frank: this amounts to an allegation that I deliberately lied to Parliament."

He said this allegation extended to "many others" who attended the same gatherings, but that most had given evidence indicating they did not consider their attendance against the rules.

Mr Johnson told the Committee any suggestion of a cover-up was "illogical" because he knew "any deception on my part would lead to instant exposure".

Referencing pictures previously obtained by ITV News of Mr Johnson raising a drink at gatherings, he said it was "implausible" that pictures would have been taken by the official No 10 photographer if he had known the events were "obviously" against the rules.

Mr Johnson described the allegation that it was reckless of him to rely on assurances from trusted advisers as "unprecedented and absurd".

This photograph showing Boris Johnson at a leaving do was obtained by ITV News. Credit: ITV News

"It was self-evidently reasonable for me to rely on assurances that I received from my advisers."

Mr Johnson also questioned why he was fined by police for attending his birthday gathering, an event for which Mr Sunak was also sanctioned.

He said he accepts the police conclusion but added: "To this day it remains unclear to me - and I believe the prime minister may feel the same - how precisely we committed an offence under the regulations."

"I have never been provided with any rationale by the police, in particular how some individuals that attended did not receive a fixed penalty notice.

"We had a sandwich lunch together and they wished me happy birthday. I was not told in advance that this would happen.

"No cake was eaten, and no-one even sang happy birthday. The primary topic of conversation was the response to Covid-19."

He raised the same questions in a speech to the Global Soft Power Summit in early March.

Downing Street refused to be drawn on the former PM's comments when asked by reporters at a news briefing.

The PM's spokesman also insisted Mr Sunak would not be watching Mr Johnson’s appearance before the Committee on Wednesday.

What has the Privileges Commitee said?

The Committee insists Mr Johnson's dossier provides no new evidence, and has previously said it must have been "obvious" to the former PM that rules were being broken on Downing Street.

The MPs said in a statement the initial unredacted evidence package that was handed in by Mr Johnson on Monday afternoon included a "number of errors and typos".

A "final corrected version" was not submitted to the Privileges Committee until 8.02am on Tuesday morning, they said - only 30 hours before Wednesday's hearing is due to start.

In a preliminary report released at the start of March, the Committee said: “The evidence strongly suggests that breaches of guidance would have been obvious to Mr Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings.”

It contained WhatsApp messages from his director of communications at the time, raising concerns about a birthday party being organised for the then-PM.

“I’m struggling to come up with a way this one is within the rules in my head," it said.

The Privileges Committee said it will consider why Mr Johnson told MPs that no guidance had been broken “when he knew what the guidance was and was in attendance at gatherings where the guidance was breached”.

It will examine claims by the then-prime minister in December 2021 that “all guidance was followed completely in No. 10” and “the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”.

The committee will also look into “why he failed to tell the House about the gatherings at which he had been present”.

What can the Privileges Committee do and what are the criticisms of it?

Johnson passed the document to MPs on the Privileges Committee who will quiz him for up to four hours on Wednesday and who have the power to recommend a punishment which could see him lose his seat.

If the Committee recommends a punishment of 10 or more days suspension from Parliament, and MPs vote to impose it, a by-election could be triggered if 10% of voters in his constituency want one.

Mr Johnson, who held his Uxbridge seat with a majority of 7,210 in 2019, would have to decide whether to fight for re-election or stand aside for another Tory.

The former prime minister and MPs close to him have been trying to discredit the Privileges Commitee investigation, with ex-ministers in his government labelling it a "left-wing stitch up".

They believe the inquiry's integrity has been compromised because its chair is veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman, who they accuse of previously tweeting her views on the matter.

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Many are also taking issue with the inquiry's use of evidence gathered by Sue Gray, the former civil servant who carried out a separate investigation into rule breaking on Downing Street who is now set to join Labour as its chief of staff.

Mr Sunak, asked whether he agreed with the portrayal of the inquiry as a witch hunt by some of Mr Johnson's allies, said: "That's ultimately something for Boris Johnson and he'll have the committee process to go through and that's a matter for Parliament. That's not what I'm focused on."

Conor Burns, a Tory MP who served as a minister in Mr Johnson’s government, has accused committee chair and Labour grandee Harriet Harman of "predetermining" the inquiry.

He raised a tweet posted by Ms Harman in April 2022, where she wrote that if (Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak) admit guilt, by which she said was accepting a fixed penalty notice, then they are also admitting that they misled the House of Commons.

Tory peer Lord Greenhalgh backed a campaign for the four Conservative MPs on the Tory-majority committee to pull out of the “kangaroo court”.

The PM's official spokesman responded by saying Mr Sunak “firmly believes it’s a matter for Parliament”, adding: “Parliament empowered the committee to carry out its work.”