BORIS Johnson has said that, as prime minister during the second Covid lockdown, he would have told organisations that it was up to them if they wanted to hold “unsocially-distanced farewell gatherings in the workplace”.

Johnson was speaking in what was widely seen as an extremely damaging hearing for the former Tory leader, where he gave evidence to the Privileges Committee of MPs probing whether or not he deliberately misled parliament over the partygate scandal.

During the session, Johnson made argued that while statements he made in the Commons – such as that “I'm sure that guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times” – have since proven to be false, he made them believing they were true.

The National:

He faced questions about various events in Downing Street, including one leaving-do held for communications boss Lee Cain on November 13, 2020. A photo of the event, which happened just days after England’s second lockdown, shows Johnson raising a glass to a room of people, with various alcohol bottles on a table.

Tory MP Bernard Jenkin asked about the event, prompting a tetchy response from the former Tory leader: “It was not a social event. If anybody thinks I was partying during lockdown, they are completely wrong. That was not a party.”

Jenkin then asked: “If you’d been asked at a press conference, with your podium saying ‘hands, face, space’, whether it was ok for organisations to hold unsocially-distanced farewell gatherings in the workplace, what would you have said?”

The National:

Johnson replied: “I would have said it is up to organisations, as the guidance says, to decide how they are going to implement the guidance.”

He was also quizzed on the May 20, 2020 garden party – to which his personal private secretary Martin Reynolds invited some 200 Goverment staff to bring their own booze.

This BYOB party, Johnson said, was a work event and “an appropriate use of the garden”.

The former Tory leader’s evidence often seemed to contain implicit contradictions. He regularly claimed that the guidance was flexible and he believed it allowed for the events that are now public knowledge.

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However, he also claimed: “As the guidance said, we didn't touch each others' pens, we didn't pass stuff to each other if we could possibly avoid it.”

He was interrupted by Harman, who asked: "Presumably people were passing drinks to each other because we've seen the pictures.”

Johnson replied that it was “guidance and I'm not going to pretend it was enforced rigidly”.

The former prime minister was also asked why, if he was sure it was a work event, the birthday party for which he received a fine from the police (below) was attended by his "wife and interior designer".

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After the session, the SNP’s depute leader at Westminster, Mhairi Black, said the former Tory leader's "mask slipped under interrogation and [his] absurd claims were exposed as not remotely credible".

Johnson was quizzed by the committee’s one SNP MP, four Tories, and two Labour representatives – including chair Harriet Harman – for around three hours on Wednesday afternoon.

He leant heavily on claims that none of his advisers or staff had raised concerns with him that the various events held on Downing Street during lockdown were a breach of rules or guidance. He said, as he did in parliament, that he had been repeatedly assured that no rules were broken.

However, this argument was given short shrift by Harman.

“If I was going 100mph and I saw the speedometer saying 100mph, it would be a bit odd, wouldn't it, if I said somebody assured me that I wasn't, because it's what you see with your own eyes,” the Labour MP said towards the end of the session.

“So do you actually think that we’re entitled to be a bit dismayed about the flimsy nature of this assurance?”

As Johnson gave evidence, his allies continued their attempts to undermine the committee’s legitimacy, with Jacob Rees-Mogg doubling down on his previous claim that it is a “kangaroo court”.

“Boris is doing very well against the marsupials,” the Tory MP tweeted in his former boss’s defence.

Asked about that characterisation of the committee – or of it as a “witch hunt” – by Tory MPs Charles Walker and Alberto Costa, Johnson refused to say he would not use those same attack lines if it finds against him.

The former Tory leader said only that he had "respect" for the committee because he does not think it can find him guilty, but suggested that respect could evaporate. "I will wait to see how you proceed with the evidence that you have,” Johnson told MPs.

Harman said the committee may yet take further evidence, and there has been no definitive date given of when it might conclude.

If it rules against Johnson, then the House of Commons will vote on what action can be taken against him. A suspension of more than 10 days would lead to a recall petition, which if signed by 10% of his constituents would trigger a by-election.

There would be nothing to stop Johnson from trying to stand in that by-election.

The National: Mhairi Black MP addresses delegates at the Scottish National Party conference at the SEC Centre in Glasgow..

The SNP’s depute leader at Westminster, Mhairi Black (above), said of the session: "This hearing was utterly excruciating for Boris Johnson, whose mask slipped under interrogation and whose absurd claims were exposed as not remotely credible. Most people watching will conclude it's now beyond doubt that the Tory former Prime Minister not only broke the law but also deliberately misled Parliament.

"If the Privileges Committee does conclude that Boris Johnson misled parliament, then Rishi Sunak will have no choice but to withdraw the whip permanently – or he will show he's weak, unprincipled and lacks the integrity to be Prime Minister.

"The growing stench of Tory sleaze and corruption shows the Westminster system is broken beyond repair. With the pro-Brexit, pro-cuts Labour Party little more than a poundshop Tory tribute act, it's clear independence is the only way for Scotland to escape Westminster control and deliver the real change we need."