Boris Johnson has sworn “hand on heart, I did not lie to the House” as he was questioned by MPs over whether he misled the Commons with his denials of partygate in a hearing that could determine his political fate.
Harriet Harman, the chair of the Privileges Committee undertaking the grilling, rejected the former prime minister’s demand that the inquiry only considers his discussion of coronavirus guidance.
The Labour grandee said the MPs on the cross-party committee will leave their “party interests at the door of the committee room and conduct our work in the interests of the House” as she dismissed claims of bias.
She insisted the committee is “not relying” on evidence provided by the Sue Gray report, as allies of Mr Johnson claim the inquiry is a “witch hunt” now that the civil servant is joining Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s office.
Charing the Tory-majority committee, Ms Harman added: “We have not changed the rules of the procedure that is not within our remit, that is laid down by the House, we’re bound to follow them, that is not what we’ve done.”
She said the evidence raises “clear questions and this is Mr Johnson’s opportunity to give us his answers” before asking him to take the oath.
Mr Johnson swore to tell the truth before issuing an apology and adding: “I’m here to say to you hand on heart, I did not lie to the House.
“When those statements were made, they were made in good faith and on the basis on what I honestly knew and believed at the time.”
Ms Harman warned that misleading the House is a “matter of great importance”.
“If what ministers tell us is not the truth, we can’t do our job,” she said.
“Our democracy depends upon trust that what ministers tell MPs in the House of Commons is the truth. And without that trust, our entire parliamentary democracy is undermined.”
Mr Johnson was supported in the room by his arch-ally, Jacob Rees-Mogg.
A break in proceedings was called so Mr Johnson and the other MPs could go and vote on Rishi Sunak’s new post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.
Mr Johnson plans to rebel against the Government, delivering a blow to his successor as prime minister.
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