The WhatsApp messages that complicate Johnson's defence

author:Press center2 source:Press center 1 browse: 【big medium small】 Release time:2023-06-02 06:27:35 Comment count:

Boris Johnson has submitted written evidence to the committee of MPs investigating whether he misled Parliament over statements he made about gatherings at Downing Street during lockdown.

The former prime minister says that when he told the House of Commons that Covid rules and guidance were followed "at all times" at Downing Street, he believed that to be the case.

And he claims not to have been alone in thinking that.

"The evidence before the committee demonstrates that those working at No 10 at the time shared my honest belief that the rules and guidance were being followed," he writes.

But the Privileges Committee has already published evidence that "those who were advising Mr Johnson about what to say to the press and in the House were themselves struggling to contend that some gatherings were within the rules".

Its interim report - published earlier this month - included a series of WhatsApp messages between the then director of communications and a No 10 official on 25 January 2021.

They appear to have been discussing the birthday gathering on 19 June 2020 for the former prime minister, for which he and the current prime minister were both fined by the Metropolitan Police.

The Director of Communications said he hadn't "heard any explanation of how it's in the rules".

The No 10 official replies "it is difficult" and adds "reasonably necessary for work purposes".

At the time of Mr Johnson's birthday celebration, gatherings of two or more people inside were prohibited by law in England, unless "reasonably necessary" for work purposes.

There was also guidance for workplaces suggesting only "absolutely necessary participants" should physically attend meetings and they should maintain social distancing.

There was nothing in the guidance to suggest that workplace socialising, such as birthday parties or leaving drinks, would be acceptable.

The exchange of messages - in the committee report - ends with the director of communications saying: "Not sure that one works does it".

In his written evidence, Mr Johnson says these are "internal messages between advisers. There is no suggestion at all that these concerns were passed on to me".

He also says the messages were from January 2022, whereas his statements to Parliament - about the rules and guidance being followed "at all times" - were in December 2021.

But these messages clearly show some officials struggling to explain how one of the gatherings was permitted.

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