Boris Johnson is a “man of integrity” and “puts the country first”, a Cabinet minister has insisted.
Levelling up secretary Michael Gove said he believes everything Johnson said when he was hauled in front of MPs last week.
Johnson swore “hand on heart” that he did not lie to the House of Commons during the high stakes hearing with the privileges committee.
Their inquiry into whether he led misled parliament has the potential to end his political career.
However, Gove told Sky News Johnson is a “man of integrity” and is someone who “puts the country first”.
He went on to tell the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme he believed the former prime minister’s evidence.
Asked if Johnson had always told the truth, Gove said: “I think that all of us will at some point have told a white lie or an untruth.
“But I think the fundamental thing here —and again the privileges committee will make up its own mind, it has looked at all the evidence — but what was Boris’ argument? He was working incredibly hard, every hour that the lord sent in order to try and do the right thing.
“He believed that saying thank you to people who were leaving in the cramped and confined circumstances of 10 Downing Street was part of that job. Did he attend those events in a spirit of self-indulgence? No, he did so in order to show his gratitude to those who were working with him.”
Gove said he was inclined to give Johnson “not just the benefit of the doubt” but to believe him when he “places his hand on his heart”.
Johnson swore on the King James Bible to tell the truth before accepting that he misled MPs but insisted his partygate denials were made “in good faith” based on what he “honestly” knew at the time.
Johnson said if it was so “obvious” that rule-breaking was going on in No.10, then it would also have been “obvious” to others, including Rishi Sunak.
He also argued the process had been “manifestly unfair” and said if the inquiry is accusing him of lying, then it is also levelling the same charge at civil servants, advisers and MPs.
If the committee decides Johnson did mislead MPs - and the Commons backs suspending him for 10 days or more - he could face a by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.
However, there is a long process to get through before the saga potentially reaches that stage.