LONDON (Reuters) -Former British prime minister Boris Johnson told a parliamentary inquiry there was no evidence that he intentionally misled lawmakers about illegal parties held at his Downing Street office during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Parliament's Committee of Privileges has been investigating statements that Johnson made to the chamber in Dec. 2021 to establish whether he intentionally set out to mislead lawmakers about the parties, some of which he attended himself.
In his 52-page evidence document submitted to the committee and published on Tuesday, Johnson said he accepted that the House of Commons had been misled by his statements but that there was nothing to show he had deliberately lied.
He described some of the allegations he faced from the committee - made up of seven lawmakers with a majority of members from Johnson's governing Conservative Party - as illogical and absurd, accusing it of being unfair, highly partisan and going beyond its terms of reference.
"It is clear from that investigation that there is no evidence at all that supports an allegation that I intentionally or recklessly misled the House," said Johnson.
The committee is due to question Johnson in person when he provides oral evidence in a televised session on Wednesday.
On its website the committee said Johnson's written statement contained "no new documentary evidence", adding that it would "consider carefully the further arguments made by Mr Johnson and respond to them" in its final report.
Johnson, instantly recognisable for his distinctive mop of blonde hair, took office in 2019 on the back of his support for Brexit, winning a subsequent election with a huge majority after attracting swathes of working class voters who usually shun the Conservatives.
But his popularity suffered from the revelations about the parties, held while coronavirus laws were keeping Britons at home and barred from indoor gatherings, meaning some people were even unable to attend funerals of loved ones.
Johnson was finally forced to resign last September after dozens of his ministers quit over a series of scandals.
At the centre of the inquiry into his actions are statements Johnson made to parliament in December 2021 when he said no rules were broken. But he was later fined by police over a party to celebrate his 56th birthday and a report by senior civil servant Sue Gray detailed the illegal gatherings.
In an interim report published this month, the committee said Johnson might have misled parliament on four occasions and said the rule-breaking should have been "obvious" to him.
Johnson said he honestly believed the events he had attended were lawful work gatherings and that he had trusted assurances given by senior aides.
He said the presence of the official Downing Street photographer on some occasions was testament to the fact they were believed to be within the rules.
The outcome of the inquiry could determine what, if any, political future Johnson has. Some Conservatives hope he can stage a comeback as leader while others believe he is now too toxic with voters.
Conservative lawmaker James Duddridge, a Johnson supporter, said on Twitter he believed the former premier's submission showed he had not intentionally misled parliament.
"For God’s sake can we now get back to reducing inflation, cutting the deficit and growing the economy," he added.
(Writing by Michael Holden, Editing by Kylie MacLellan, William James and Gareth Jones)