Ex-British PM Johnson condemns handling of fresh Covid breach claims

AFP , Wednesday 24 May 2023

Former British prime minister Boris Johnson has condemned the handling of fresh allegations of Covid lockdown rule-breaking as “bizarre and unacceptable”, as he faces a further possible probe into the “Partygate” scandal that helped push him from office.

Boris Johnson leaves his house in London, Wednesday, March 22, 2023. AP

It emerged on Tuesday that a government ministry had handed two police forces material about alleged violations of pandemic regulations.

Johnson, 58, was ousted as prime minister last summer following a revolt within his ruling party after months of accusations of lockdown infringements and other scandals.

He repeatedly denied in parliament, and elsewhere, that he or his staff had broken his own pandemic era restrictions by holding boozy gatherings in Downing Street.

But the Met issued fines to dozens of aides after a criminal probe, and Johnson became the first serving UK prime minister found to have broken the law, over one of the gatherings.

London’s Metropolitan Police has confirmed it is “assessing” new information it received over the last week related to “potential breaches” of the coronavirus rules in Downing Street between June 2020 and May 2021.

The information was passed on by the Cabinet Office, the government department responsible for supporting prime ministers and ensuring the effective running of government.

The ministry is currently preparing a public inquiry into the country’s pandemic response.

Partygate

Johnson is also still being investigated by parliament’s Privileges Committee over whether he lied to MPs about “Partygate”, in a process that could ultimately trigger his removal as a lawmaker.

A statement issued by Johnson’s office, however, said his lawyers had written to police to “explain in detail why the Cabinet Office is entirely wrong in its assertions”.

“No contact was made with Mr Johnson before these incorrect allegations were made both to the police and to the Privileges Committee. This is both bizarre and unacceptable.

“For whatever political purpose, it is plain that a last-ditch attempt is being made to lengthen the Privileges Committee investigation as it was coming to a conclusion and to undermine Mr Johnson.”

The statement described the events in question as “entirely within the rules either because they were held outdoors or came within another lawful exception. They include regular meetings with civil servants and advisers”.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said on Tuesday there had been no ministerial involvement in the passing on of the new alleged breaches.

“Material came to light which was passed to the civil service. The civil service considered that in accordance with their code, and with no ministerial intervention,” Chalk told LBC radio.

“Ultimately, whether it was the right judgement to do it turns on what’s in those documents. And I’ve not seen those documents,” he added.

This article was originally published by Agence France-Presse.

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