Boris Johnson has accused anyone who suspects he deliberately covered up lockdown parties in No 10 of being “out of their mind”.
The former British prime minister said the claim was “strictly for the birds”, despite being under investigation for allegedly lying to Parliament over lockdown breaches.
Mr Johnson, in an interview with the Tory MP Nadine Dorries, who he is believed to have recommended for a peerage, said he thought their mid-pandemic gatherings were “within the rules”.
He insisted he had to be “respectful” to the cross-party Commons Privileges Committee that is undertaking the inquiry into him.
“But I’ll just repeat what I’ve said before, and I hope it’s obvious to everybody, that anybody who thinks I was knowingly going to parties that were breaking lockdown rules in No 10, or then knowingly covering up parties that were illicit that other people were going to, that’s all strictly for the birds,” he added.
“And if anybody thinks like that, they’re out of their mind.”
Mr Johnson, speaking to his diehard loyalist for her new TalkTV show, insisted his Downing Street was “thinking desperately” about Covid-19 testing and the vaccine rollout at the time.
“We all thought what we were doing – or certainly, I thought what we were doing – was within the rules. And what we certainly thought was that we were working blindingly hard on some massive priorities for the country,” he added.
Mr Johnson, forced out of office by the Conservatives after a series of scandals, is expected to give evidence to the inquiry in the coming months.
He had repeatedly told the Commons there were no rule-breaking parties in Downing Street, and that the rules had been followed at all times.
But the Metropolitan Police issued 126 fines for breaches of Covid rules, including to Mr Johnson himself, for offences spanning a series of gatherings in 2020 and 2021.
The Privileges Committee has been sifting through a mound of written evidence handed over by Rishi Sunak’s Downing Street.
If the committee rules Mr Johnson did lie to Parliament and a suspension of more than 10 sitting days is approved, he could face a challenging by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat.