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Boris Johnson Rewrites History at the Privileges Committee

The former Prime Minister’s refusal to accept responsibility for his own actions only adds insult to the injury of all those forced to make huge sacrifices during the pandemic, writes Adam Bienkov

Boris Johnson addresses the Privileges Committee. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

Party by Gaslight: Boris Johnson Rewrites History At the Privileges Committee

The former Prime Minister’s refusal to accept responsibility for his own actions only adds insult to the injury of all those forced to make huge sacrifices during the pandemic, writes Adam Bienkov

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Watching Boris Johnson’s appearance before the Privileges Committee on Wednesday was like watching the inhabitant of a parallel, but entirely alternate reality.

For the occupant of this parallel reality, little of what we all collectively remember from the events of the pandemic actually happened.

So while you may think you remember Johnson standing up at the nightly Covid press conferences and solemnly instructing us to “stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives”, while his ministers urged people to shop their neighbours to the public, Johnson’s recollection was quite different.

For the former Prime Minister, what may have seemed like life or death instructions to the nation were in reality merely general guidelines that were were never intended to be “perfectly” followed.

Instead we were told that while everyone else was sheltering at home, the leaving dos and Friday night drinks regularly taking place in Downing Street were in fact “absolutely essential for work purposes” and “had to happen”. 

And despite what we may remember about our own restricted working arrangements during the pandemic, Johnson insisted that such freedoms weren’t in fact unique to Downing Street. Instead he insisted that he would have been happy to have told other workplaces to hold such “essential” leaving drinks as well.

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Such claims would be ludicrous enough by themselves. However, it was not just our memories that Johnson asked us to doubt, but the evidence in front of our eyes and ears as well.

Shown photographs of his attendance at events for which the Metropolitan Police issued multiple fines, his own words explaining what the rules were at the time, and the subsequent footage of him then telling MPs that “all guidance was followed at Number 10” during lockdown, Johnson simply insisted that there was “not a shred of evidence” that he had done anything wrong.

Of course it is easy to mock such obvious duplicity. Yet for anyone who was forced to cancel plans for a family funeral, or to see their dying relatives in hospitals, such attempts to rewrite our shared national history are not just bewildering, but shameful too. 

For months on end members of the public and frontline workers, made huge sacrifices in order to stick to the rules which Johnson set for us. Yet at the same time we now know that he and his colleagues believed they were entirely exempt from doing the same.

It’s not just deception that marked Johnson’s appearance today, however, but cowardice too. Rather than take full responsibility for what happened inside Downing Street under his watch, Johnson instead sought to blame his own staff for the wrongdoing which he simultaneously insisted had in fact not taken place.

So when asked why he had repeatedly told MPs that all guidelines were followed, the former Prime Minister insisted he was merely following false assurances from his own staff.

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However, when asked whether he would like to correct the record about what he now admitted was false information, Johnson told the Chair, Harriet Harman, that he wouldn’t because it “remains my belief” that the guidance had in fact been followed.

Such is the gordian knot of lies that Johnson has tied himself up in, that this quite spectacular piece of doublethink barely raised an eyebrow among the committee.

Yet having spent so long constructing the many rooms of this alternative reality, Johnson has little choice but to continue living within it.

The only question is how much longer his remaining allies and supporters are willing to share it with him.

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