Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told Britain’s COVID-19 inquiry that any suggestion he wanted to allow the virus to “let rip” was “completely wrong” and hit out at “absolutely absurd” portrayals of partying in Downing Street during the pandemic as he faced a second day of questioning at a public inquiry.
Johnson, 59, was forced from office last year after public anger erupted over revelations about a series of COVID-19 lockdown-breaching parties called “Partygate”.
But he insisted to the inquiry on Thursday that perceptions of the scandal were “a million miles from the reality of what happened”.
It follows the ex-leader apologising on Wednesday for “the pain and the loss and the suffering” caused by the pandemic on his much-anticipated first day in the witness box and accepting “mistakes” had “unquestionably” occurred.
The United Kingdom went on to have one of Europe’s longest and strictest lockdowns as well as one of the continent’s highest COVID-19 death tolls with the virus recorded as a cause of death for more than 232,000 people – one of the worst official per capita tolls among Western nations.
Johnson has faced a barrage of criticism from former aides for alleged indecisiveness and lack of scientific understanding as well as for a Downing Street culture that facilitated Partygate.
“I continue to regret very much what happened,” Johnson said on Thursday when asked about the scandal before branding “dramatic representations” of it “a travesty of the truth”.
“The version of events that has entered the popular consciousness about what is supposed to have happened in Downing Street is a million miles from the reality of what actually happened,” he added.
His aides and officials “thought they were working very, very hard – which they were – and I certainly thought that what we were doing was … within the rules,” Johnson said.