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Scathing report finds Boris Johnson deliberately misled UK Parliament over ‘partygate’

Boris Johnson leaves his house in London, on March 22, 2023. Several dozen allies of former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson received honors from King Charles III on Friday June 9, 2023, a list that drew cries of cronyism from opponents of the ousted leader. “Resignation honors,” bestowed by the monarch but chosen by the government, are an established but contentious way for departing leaders to reward loyal lieutenants. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

LONDON (AP) — Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson deliberately misled Parliament about the lockdown-flouting parties that undermined his credibility and contributed to his downfall, a committee of lawmakers said Thursday after a year-long investigation.

A scathing report from the House of Commons Privileges Committee found that Johnson’s actions and his response to the committee were such a flagrant violation of the rules that they warranted a 90-day suspension from Parliament.

While a condemning indictment of the former prime minister’s conduct, the recommendation is largely symbolic because Johnson angrily quit as a lawmaker Friday after the committee informed him of its conclusions.

“We have concluded above that in deliberately misleading the House, Mr Johnson committed a serious contempt,” the committee’s report said. “The contempt was all the more serious because it was committed by the Prime Minister, the most senior member of the government. There is no precedent for a Prime Minister having been found to have deliberately misled the House.”

The committee also said Johnson should not be granted a pass to Parliament’s grounds.

Johnson, 58, fought back in a statement tinged by fury. He described the committee as a “kangaroo court” that conducted a “witch hunt” to drive him out of Parliament. A majority of the panel’s seven members come from Johnson’s Conservative Party.

“The committee now says that I deliberately misled the House, and at the moment I spoke I was consciously concealing from the House my knowledge of illicit events,” Johnson said. “This is rubbish. It is a lie. In order to reach this deranged conclusion, the Committee is obliged to say a series of things that are patently absurd, or contradicted by the facts.”

The report is just the latest episode in the “partygate” scandal that has distracted lawmakers since local news organizations revealed that members of Johnson’s staff held a series of parties in 2020 and 2021 when such gatherings were prohibited by pandemic restrictions. The full House of Commons will now debate the committee’s report and decide whether it concurs with the panel’s findings and recommended sanctions.

Johnson angrily quit as a lawmaker on Friday after the committee informed him in advance that he would be sanctioned.

On Wednesday, the eve of the report’s publication, Johnson also called for the panel’s most senior Conservative member, Bernard Jenkin, to resign over claims that he had broken pandemic restrictions himself.

Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats, said the move was a “typical distraction tactic from Boris Johnson that doesn’t change the fact he broke the law and lied about it.”

Johnson’s move to quit Parliament means he can no longer be suspended, and his seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip will be contested in a special election in July.

Johnson and his wife, Carrie, were fined by the Metropolitan Police last year for breaching COVID-19 laws at a birthday party for Johnson in June 2020 in his Downing Street residence and office.

Current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was also among dozens of people issued with fixed-penalty notices for a series of office parties and “wine time Fridays” in 2020 and 2021 across government buildings.

Revelations of the booze-fueled gatherings, which took place at a time when millions were prohibited from seeing loved ones or even attending family funerals, angered many Britons and added to a string of ethics scandals that spelled Johnson’s downfall. Johnson resigned as prime minister in July 2022 after a mass exodus of government officials protesting his leadership.

Johnson has acknowledged misleading lawmakers when he assured them that no rules had been broken, but he insisted he didn’t do so deliberately.

In March he told the committee he “honestly believed” the five gatherings he attended, including a send-off for a staffer and his own surprise birthday party, were “lawful work gatherings” intended to boost morale among overworked staff members coping with a deadly pandemic.