The heat has been turned up on Boris Johnson amid a Whitehall lockdown-breaching parties probe, while the Metropolitan Police has confirmed it has contacted the Cabinet Office over a “bring your own booze party” on 20 May 2020, which came to light from a leaked email.
Boris Johnson, who faces MPs in the House of Commons today at Prime Minister’s Questions, is being urged by furious Tories to be “up front and honest” regarding allegations he attended a rule-busting “bring your own booze” (BYOB) garden party in Downing Street while tough coronavirus restrictions were in place in 2020.
“Furious” Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross voiced “serious doubts” about the Prime Minister’s future, claiming he should resign if he broke COVID-19 rules.
“These are rules that he himself put in place… If the prime minister himself has not followed that guidance, if he was at that party when others were told to remain in their homes and not mix with others, that is simply unacceptable. And if he has misled parliament, in my view he can’t continue,” Ross was cited by STV as saying.
He added that the PM had a duty to be “up front and honest with the public” regarding whether he breached his own government’s guidance.
Ross also indicated that the current row could prompt more Conservative MPs to send letters to Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, to trigger a vote of no confidence, adding:
“These are discussions I know that colleagues will be having in Westminster,” he said.
The Labour Party warned Johnson that he “can run, but he can’t hide” from the scandal, adding that “the public has already drawn its own conclusion”.
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, demanded that Boris Johnson resign, saying he was “apparently not being truthful about his knowledge of these matters”.
A chorus of former ministers and Tory MPs have also deplored the damning revelations as “humiliating”, with the MP for Keighley, Robbie Moore, quoted by The Guardian as saying:
“The email from Martin Reynolds infuriates me. I have no idea what these people were thinking.”
Ex- minister Caroline Nokes said she had “no words” to express her anger at Dowing Street’s “don’t do as I do, do as I say” attitude.
Mark Harper, chair of the Covid Recovery Group, said: “These are serious allegations. The prime minister will be in the House of Commons [on Wednesday] … and I await his explanation with interest.”
Calls For ‘Proper Apology’
Tory MPs were also cited as expecting Boris Johnson to offer a long-overdue explanation in connection with the allegations at Prime Minister’s questions.
“He should fess up, take responsibility personally, and apologise – not one of these pretend apologies but a proper apology,” an MP was cited by The Guardian as saying.
Another Tory MP revealed that he was disgusted over the scandal.
“I just feel I have been lied to. I just think the whole operation is a liability,” he added.
Yet another ex-minister is said to have warned that the current revelations were “another notch on the dial: we’re moving up the scale from retrievable to irretrievable.”
According to senior Tory insiders, cited by the outlet, in the House of Commons on Tuesday MPs were discussing who could potentially replace Johnson, with one MP saying Chancellor Rishi Sunak could be prime minister within months.
“It is no longer a question of if the PM will go, it is when,” the MP reportedly said.
The “partygate” scandal had been taken to a new level after a leaked email shared with ITV News revealed that the Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds had allegedly invited more than 100 Downing Street staff to a party on 20 May 2020, during the first lockdown in the country “to make the most of the lovely weather.”
“Hi all, After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!” stated the email allegedly sent by the Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds to No 10 employees, including Johnson’s advisors, speechwriters and door staff, said the outlet.
Around 40 staff are believed to have eventually gathered in the garden on the evening in question, with picnic food and wine laid out on the tables.
Among those attending were the Prime Minister and his wife Carrie Johnson, at the time his fiancée, witnesses were cited as telling the BBC.
At the time of the first lockdown, introduced in late March 2020, social mixing between households was limited to two people, who could only meet outdoors and with social distancing of at least 2 metres.
Questions have been asked about the Prime Minister’s role in the gathering due to the use of the phrase “we thought it would be nice” in the leaked email invite.
Johnson himself has declined to say whether he attended the gathering, with his official spokesman also refusing to comment on the claims.
Fending off questions at the session in the House of Commons on Tuesday, junior minister Michael Ellis said the inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray into alleged lockdown-breaching parties at Whitehall was now considering the Downing Street gatherings on 15 and 20 May 2020 as well as the following Christmas gatherings.
Ellis said the report would “establish the facts, and if wrongdoing is established, there will be requisite disciplinary action taken”.
When asked if Johnson would resign if it was revealed he had broken the law, Ellis insisted the PM was “going nowhere” and “retains the confidence of the people in this country”.
This comes as No 10 staff have reportedly been advised to “clean up” their phones “just in case” they had to hand them in to the “partygate” investigation, according to The Independent.
A senior Downing Street staffer suggested early last month it would be a “good idea” to delete any messages implying they had attended or were aware of anything that could “look like a party”, according to two cited sources. The advice had ostensibly come in the wake of the first reports of rule-breaking parties at Downing Street.
“I was being leant on [during the discussion with a senior colleague] and told to get rid of anything that could look bad,” said the insider quoted by the outlet.
This report appears to contradict an email, similarly reportedly sent in December, that instructed staff not to destroy material such as emails, WhatsApp messages and calendar invitations that could prove pertinent to an investigation.
Staff can be required to hand over workplace handsets to the probe led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, who replaced Cabinet Secretary Simon Case late last year amid claims events were held in his own department. However, Gray cannot access personal phones unless staff volunteer to hand them over.
Sources added that many staff members had ignored the latter email and likely deleted messages from their phones.
“Staff were given clear guidance to retain any relevant information. As set out in the terms of reference, all staff are expected to fully co-operate with the investigation,” a No 10 spokesperson was quoted as telling The Independent.
In light of the latest revelations, on Monday night the Metropolitan Police announced it was “aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on 20 May 2020” and was in contact with the Cabinet Office.
Meanwhile, polls appear to indicate that public anger is turning against the PM. A YouGov poll for Sky News revealed that 56% of respondents believed Johnson should resign over the fresh “partygate” allegations, with 27% saying he should remain. According to a Savanta ComRes study, 66% of British adults thought Boris Johnson should quit as prime minister, with 24% saying he should stay.