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Boris Johnson delivered a string of jokes about Tory efforts to oust him last night as he hosted a lavish team-building dinner
The PM entertained his MPs for a meal at a luxury central London hotel hours after Scotland Yard announced the first 20 fines for Partygate lockdown breaches.
Mr Johnson is said to have quipped that no-confidence letters are ‘elastic — they go in and you can pull them out’. He also admitted he is ‘more popular in parts of Kyiv than in parts of Kensington’ but vowed to ‘turn it round’.
The premier’s improved position after the Ukraine crisis erupted was underlined by the warm reception he received from the massed ranks of Tory MPs.
But as they arrived Conservatives were heckled by bereaved families of Covid victims shouting ‘off to another party are we?’
And Deputy PM Dominic Raab admitted in a round of interviews this morning that the police decision meant lockdown laws had been broken in Whitehall.
Downing Street pointedly refused to confirm that was the case yesterday, as Mr Johnson waits nervously to find out whether he will receive a fixed penalty notice.
The premier faces a potentially bruising day as he takes the weekly PMQs session at lunchtime, before being grilled by the powerful cross-party Commons Liaison Committee this afternoon.
Dozens of grief-stricken relatives who lost loved ones during the pandemic lined up outside the entrance to boo guests as they arrived in cars and on foot
Deputy PM Dominic Raab admitted in a round of interviews this morning that the police decision meant lockdown laws had been broken in Whitehall
Shouts of ‘shame on you’ and ‘off to another party are we?’ were directed at the Conservatives
Sources told Politico that Mr Johnson told the dinner last night: ‘One of reasons that Putin is deluded and isolated is because he has no cabinet of equals, no 1922 committee and nobody to write 54 letters to Sir Graham Brady.’
Scotland Yard announced yesterday that is issuing the first tranche of fixed penalty notices to people who attended ‘Partygate’ events.
But the force warned that its investigation still has some distance to run, saying there is a ‘significant’ amount of material yet to be assessed.
Downing Street repeatedly dodged when asked if it is now a fact that the law was broken – merely insisting Mr Johnson had not misled Parliament.
Mr Johnson is not believed to be among the initial group fined, and police say individuals will not be named – as well as ruling out disclosing which events they attended.
The first FPNs are thought to be ‘clear-cut’ cases where people are not denying allegations.
The PM is said to have been at six of the 12 events under investigation and has received a legal questionnaire – equivalent to being interviewed under caution – but he has rejected claims he broke rules.
Mrs Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, former No10 private secretary Martin Reynolds, and interior decorator Lulu Lytle – who was in No10 refurbishing the PM’s flat – have all been linked to gatherings. They have denied wrongdoing, apart from Mr Reynolds who has not commented.
What happens next on Partygate?
The Met has announced an initial tranche of fixed penalty notices.
Those will now be processed and sent out to the individuals, who can decide whether to accept or contest the findings.
If they pay the fines there will be no further action. The police have also made clear they will not be named.
But there still seems to be a long way to go in the investigation.
The Met is thought to have gone for ‘clear-cut’ cases where people accept they breached rules first – which means Boris Johnson is unlikely to feature in this batch.
And they have been interviewing witnesses, suggesting that the probe is still gathering material.
No10 has insisted the PM will admit if he is fined and the same goes for Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, but the picture is less clear for other ministers such as Rishi Sunak.
The former director-general of the Government’s Covid Taskforce, Kate Josephs, has said she is ‘truly sorry’ over an evening gathering in the Cabinet Office for her leaving drinks during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.
The recipients of the fines – typically £100 – can decide whether to accept or contest the findings.
If they pay the fines there will be no further action.
No10 has repeated the pledge to reveal if Mr Johnson himself is fined. Any penalty received by Mr Case will also be made public.
Asked on Sky News if the issuing of a fixed penalty notice meant the law had been broken, Mr Raab said: ‘Yes, inevitably fixed penalty notices (are issued to) those that have breached the regulations.
‘We stand by and support the fact that there should be the Met process, the Sue Gray process and accountability.’
Mr Raab added: ‘The Prime Minister has already taken responsibility for things that shouldn’t have happened in No 10. He has apologised for it, and more than that he has overhauled No 10.
‘Of course we wait to see the outcome of the conclusions of the Met process.’
Pressed on the issue on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Raab said: ‘Clearly there were breaches of the regulations.’
Dozens of grief-stricken relatives who lost loved ones during the pandemic lined up outside the entrance to boo guests as they arrived in cars and on foot.
Shouts of ‘shame on you’ and ‘off to another party are we?’ were directed at Mr Gove and Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg as they turned up to the venue, where a penthouse costs up to £653 a night.
The Tory politicians are reported to have dined on salmon tart, chicken thighs and a chocolate praline dessert, washed down with fine wines.
June Newbon, who lost her husband to the virus, branded the evening ‘disgusting’ in light of the Met’s conclusion that it believes laws were broken at the heart of Government.
She said holding a lavish dinner was especially inappropriate given the cost-of-living crisis hitting millions of people and the war in Ukraine.
‘I think it’s disgusting,’ she said outside the hotel.
‘No-one else can afford to do this given the prices going up, and the war as well.’
Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove were among those to arrive at the Park Plaza near Westminster Bridge shortly before 8pm last night
Also in attendance at the Park Plaza hotel were former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Minister for Crime and Policing Kit Malthouse
Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency in the Cabinet Office Jacob Rees-Mogg leaves the Park Plaza Hotel, south London
Ms Newbon and her daughter Ellie said Conservative politicians would be better placed attending the candlelit procession to mark the first anniversary of the National Covid Memorial Wall, a planned event near the hotel on Westminster Bridge.
Hundreds of bereaved relatives turned up to the walk on Tuesday to commemorate their loved ones and call for the mural to be made permanent.
‘I think someone should make their presence known down at the bridge today instead,’ Ms Newbon said.
‘I think that’s the respect they owe us,’ Miss Newbon added.
‘We haven’t had an apology from Boris and I don’t feel we’re going to have one tonight.’
Downing Street has denied Mr Johnson misled Parliament over the goings-on in Whitehall during the pandemic.
Pressed over Mr Johnson’s view, his spokesman said: ‘It’s for the Met to make that judgment, rather than the Prime Minister.’
There was a heavy police presence surrounding the hotel and the Prime Minister is thought to have gained access to the building through a different entrance.
Which bashes are being probed by the police?
The gatherings which ARE being probed
– May 20, 2020: BYOB garden party
The revelation came in an email, leaked to ITV, from senior civil servant Martin Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street employees inviting them to ‘bring your own booze’ for an evening gathering.
The PM has admitted attending the gathering, but previously insisted he believed it was a work event which could ‘technically’ have been within the rules.
– June 18, 2020: Cabinet Office gathering
Ms Gray’s report revealed that a gathering in the Cabinet Office on this date is being investigated by the police. It has not previously been reported on.
The event was apparently held to mark the departure of a Number 10 private secretary.
– June 19, 2020: Birthday party for the PM
A Downing Street spokesman admitted staff ‘gathered briefly’ in the Cabinet Room after a meeting. A report from ITV News suggested up to 30 people attended and the PM was presented with a cake.
The broadcaster suggested the PM’s wife, Carrie Johnson, had organised the surprise get-together. Reports said Lulu Lytle, the interior designer behind lavish renovations of Mr and Mrs Johnson’s No 10 flat, briefly attended while undertaking work in Downing Street.
ITV News also reported that later the same evening, family and friends were hosted upstairs to further celebrate the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday in his official residence.
Number 10 previously said: ‘This is totally untrue. In line with the rules at the time the Prime Minister hosted a small number of family members outside that evening.’
The police probe relates specifically to the gathering in the Cabinet Room.
– November 13, 2020: Leaving party for senior aide
According to reports at the time, Mr Johnson gave a leaving speech for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and a close ally of Mr Cummings.
– November 13, 2020: Johnsons’ flat party
There are allegations that the Prime Minister’s then fiancee hosted parties in their flat, with one such event said to have taken place on November 13 – the night Dominic Cummings departed Number 10.
It has been described as the ‘Winner Takes It All’ party because Abba was allegedly played, and Carrie had a long-running feud with Mr Cummings.
A spokesman for Mrs Johnson has previously called the claim as ‘total nonsense’.
– December 17, 2020: Cabinet Office ‘Christmas party’
A number of outlets reported that a gathering was held in the Cabinet Office on December 17.
The Times reported that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case attended the party in room 103 of the Cabinet Office, that it had been organised by a private secretary in Mr Case’s team, and that it was included in digital calendars as: ‘Christmas party!’
The Cabinet Office confirmed a quiz took place, but a spokesman said: ‘The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office.’
– December 17, 2020: Leaving drinks for former Covid Taskforce head
The former director-general of the Government’s Covid Taskforce said she was ‘truly sorry’ over an evening gathering in the Cabinet Office for her leaving drinks during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.
Kate Josephs, who is now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said she gathered with colleagues who were in the office that day and added that she was co-operating with the Ms Gray’s probe.
– December 17, 2020: Number 10 leaving do
The Sue Gray update said the police are also probing a gathering in Downing Street held to mark the departure of a Number 10 official on December 17.
– December 18, 2020: Christmas party at Downing Street
The claim that kicked off the rule-breaking allegations is that a party was held for Downing Street staff on December 18.
Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts, although the PM is not thought to have attended.
Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, quit after being filmed joking about it with fellow aides at a mock press conference – although it is not clear whether she attended.
– January 14, 2021: Number 10 leaving do for two staff members
A previously unreported gathering is being probed by the police. The Sue Gray update revealed an event in Downing Street for the departure of two Number 10 private secretaries is being looked at by the police.
– April 16, 2021: Drinks and dancing the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral
The Telegraph reported that advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events on the Friday night.
They were to mark the departure of James Slack, Mr Johnson’s former director of communications, and one of the Prime Minister’s personal photographers.
Mr Slack, who left his Number 10 role to become deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper, said he was sorry for the ‘anger and hurt’ caused by his leaving do, while Downing Street apologised to the Queen.
The Telegraph quoted a Number 10 spokesman as saying Mr Johnson was not in Downing Street that day and is said to have been at Chequers.
The newspaper reported accounts from witnesses who said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music, adding that it had been told that around 30 people attended both events combined.
The three events not being investigated
– May 15, 2020: Downing Street ‘cheese and wine’ party
The PM, his wife Carrie, former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, and Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, were all pictured, in a photograph leaked to The Guardian, sitting around a table in the Number 10 garden, with wine and cheese in front of them.
Some 15 other people were also in the photograph, but the Prime Minister has insisted this was a work meeting, saying: ‘Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.’
– November 27, 2020: Second staff leaving do
The Mirror reported that the PM gave a farewell speech to an aide at the end of November while the lockdown in England was still in place.
Other reports have said the leaving do was for Cleo Watson, a senior Downing Street aide and ally of Mr Cummings.
– December 10, 2020: Department for Education party
The DfE confirmed a social event happened after The Mirror reported that former education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech at an event organised at his department’s Whitehall headquarters.
A spokesman acknowledged that ‘it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time’.
Is the unlucky 13th being investigated?
– December 15, 2020: Downing Street quiz
The PM appeared on contestants’ screens at the quiz but has insisted he broke no rules.
An image published by the Sunday Mirror showed Mr Johnson flanked by two colleagues, one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat, in Number 10.
Downing Street admitted Mr Johnson ‘briefly’ attended the quiz after the photographic evidence emerged but insisted it was a virtual event.
The police initially were not investigating this event, but later said they would ‘assess’ it following the emergence of another photograph of the PM.
Source: Daily Mail