Covid Inquiry: Boris Johnson attacks ‘absolutely absurd’ Partygate representation

"Hundreds of hard-working civil servants thought they were following the rules," he told the inquiry panel.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson giving evidence at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson giving evidence at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson giving evidence at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

Boris Johnson complained of “absolutely absurd” characterisations of the partygate debacle, as defended his handling of the latter stages of the pandemic.

The former Prime Minister insisted today (December 7) that he was not “reconciled” to Covid deaths or thought it wise to “let it rip” in the autumn of 2020, as he appeared for a second day of questioning at the Covid-19 inquiry. Many of the questions Johnson faced focused on the events leading to the second national lockdown in the autumn of 2020, while also being grilled on the impact revelations of rule-breaking inside Number 10 had on public confidence.

At one stage, he appeared to become emotional as he spoke of his own experience of being admitted to intensive care in April 2020 to reject suggestions he did not care about the suffering of the public. It came as inquiry lead counsel Hugo Keith KC pressed Johnson about the lockdown-breaching parties that were held in Downing Street.

Dubbed the partygate scandal, the row eventually led to Johnson’s exit from high office last year and eventual decision in June, following a probe by lawmakers into whether he misled Parliament over the gatherings, to quit as an MP.

Johnson was presented with a WhatsApp message, dated December 17 2021, that saw him tell Cabinet Secretary Simon Case: “In retrospect, we all should have told people – above all Lee Cain – to think about their behaviour in number ten and how it would look."

The former Prime Minister also complained about how the scandal has been presented to the public, adding that “the dramatic representations that we’re now having of this are absolutely absurd”.

“I really want to emphasise, and you talk about the impression, the version of events that has entered the popular consciousness about what is supposed to have happened in Downing Street is a million miles from the reality of what actually happened in Number 10.”

He said he was speaking on behalf of “hundreds and hundreds of hard-working civil servants who thought that they were following the rules”. Johnson added that the “characterisation, the representation, has been of what civil servants and advisers were doing in Number 10 has been a travesty of the truth”.

Johnson also strongly rejected the idea that he backed a so-called “let it rip” approach to the virus as the government grappled with rising Covid cases in September 2020. He conceded that the idea behind the phrase came up in discussions inside Downing Street as he pondered how to respond to an impending second wave.

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