Boris Johnson on Tuesday faced a barrage of criticism after it was revealed he attended a «Bring Your Wine» party in Downing Street in May 2020 when such gatherings were banned.
Edward Argar, the junior health minister, was sent to the prime minister’s defense but refused to confirm witness reports that Mr Johnson attended the event, when England was still in its first Covid-19 lockdown.
Instead, Argar insisted that the party, organized by Martin Reynolds, head of Johnson’s private office, would form part of an investigation into such gatherings by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
Johnson also declined to say whether he imposed penalties for the party, to which about 100 Downing Street employees were invited, or to confirm witness accounts that he and his wife Carrie attended the party.
The #10 wall of silence caused an angry reaction from all parties, and Johnson will now face intense media and political pressure to say exactly what happened at the event on May 20, 2020.
Labor leader Keir Starmer wrote on Twitter: «Boris Johnson, your perversions and perversions are ridiculous. Not only did you know about Downing Street parties, you attended them too. Stop lying to the British public. It’s time for you to finally end.»
Ruth Davidson, the former Conservative leader in Scotland, tweeted that Johnson’s defense «won’t last for 48 hours».
“No one needs an official to tell them if they are at a raucous party in their own garden. People [rightly] angry. They sacrificed a lot – visiting sick or grieving relatives, funerals. What was any of these people thinking? «
The disclosure of an email from Reynolds to Downing Street employees, obtained by ITV News, has re-scrutinized Downing Street’s party culture through the Covid pandemic and reopened questions about Johnson’s leadership.
In his email, Mr. Reynolds called on the staff to «make the most of the nice weather and have some social drinks at Park Number 10 this evening», and asked them to «bring your own liquor».
On Monday, the Metropolitan Police said it was aware of «widespread reporting» of breaches of health protection regulations in Downing Street on May 20, 2020. «The Metropolitan Police Service is … in contact with the Cabinet Office,» it added.
The Met previously said that if Ms Gray’s now-led Cabinet Office investigation into the Downing Street parties provided any further evidence, it would examine it.
Mr Argar said he could fully understand why people were «outraged, resentful and hurt by these allegations», but said the country would have to wait for Gray’s investigation to find out exactly what happened.
«Sue Gray, a very experienced civil servant of the highest integrity, would consider without fear or preference all allegations about parties or breaches of rules and I think it is important that she has the space and freedom to do so,» he said.
These discoveries will further worry Conservative MPs, who had been hoping to turn a new page in 2022; Many say Mr Johnson has until the May 5 local elections to prove he can turn things around and change his style of government.
Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner was given permission to ask an urgent question in the House of Commons on Tuesday, «to ask the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement regarding reports of an event in Downing Street Garden on May 20, 2020».
Under parliamentary rules, Johnson does not have to appear. But he will face questioning on Wednesday over the prime minister’s questions, with Sir Keir compiling an indictment against Johnson over the Covid party issue.
Separately, Lord Jonathan Evans, who chairs the Independent Commission for Standards in Public Life, said on Tuesday that «Partygate» was just the latest display of government «negligence» in terms of maintaining standards.
Speaking to members of the House of Commons on the Commons Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs, he also referred to Mr Johnson’s attempt to repeal the Westminster Anti-Corruption Rules in order to help a colleague who lobbied ministers, as well as his failure to disclose WhatsApp messages during the investigation into his apartment renovation in Downing Street.
«I think all of these have shown that there is – at least – neglect among the people in government on issues of standards, and perhaps nothing more.» Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022
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