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Downing Street scrambled to defend Boris Johnson last night after pictures emerged of him raising a glass at a lockdown leaving do as sources claim he suggested Sue Gray should drop plans to publish her Partygate probe.
Leaked images show the Prime Minister apparently toasting his outgoing communications chief Lee Cain on November 13, 2020 – a time when social gatherings were banned.
One Tory source pointed the finger at Dominic Cummings, who has repeatedly called for ‘regime change’ in No 10. They said: ‘This has got Dom’s fingerprints all over it.’
The pictures were leaked to ITV News hours after the PM’s former aide said more photos of events in No 10 would emerge to coincide with the publication – possibly as soon as today – of Miss Gray’s Partygate report. A Government source last night said the ‘brief’ gathering did not amount to a party.
They added: ‘He’s in a suit, he’s got his [ministerial] red box with him – he’s at work – he’s just dropped in to say goodbye to a long-serving staff member as any boss would. It’s not a party.’
Mr Johnson is said to have made a speech thanking Mr Cain and stayed at the event for ten to 15 minutes before going to his flat.
Mr Johnson received a fixed-penalty notice over a birthday party in the Cabinet Room in June 2020 but was told he would face no further action over other gatherings covered by the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Hillman inquiry.
It comes as Whitehall insiders allege Mr Johnson suggested to Sue Gray that there was no need to publish her full report into lockdown-busting events held in Downing Street because Scotland Yard had concluded their probe.
One source told the Times: ‘They were exploring this idea of not having any report. It was being talked about. But politically they realised they couldn’t do it.’ Downing Street tonight forcefully brushed aside these claims.
Mr Johnson can be seen raising a glass in a toast in the leaked pictures that surfaced yesterday afternoon
On the evening of November 13 2020, Dominic Cummings pointedly exited the front door of Downing Street carrying a box of his belongings
Images published by ITV News showed the PM with a glass in hand making a toast with around eight other people in shot
Mr Johnson is apparently giving a speech to a room full of staff in the photographs from November 2020
The leaks follow a fierce briefing war between No 10 and Sue Gray’s office following reports of ‘secret’ discussions between both sides
– March 23: First Covid lockdown begins. Non-essential shops are closed and Britons are legally required to stay at home.
– April 5: Boris Johnson is admitted to hospital with Covid. He later spends days in intensive care before recovering and leaving hospital on April 12.
– May 15: Cheese and wine in the No 10 garden. A photograph emerged of a number of groups gathered in the No 10 garden, including Mr Johnson, Carrie Johnson, and aides Dom Cummings and Martin Reynolds sitting together on the terrace. Not investigated by police.
– May 20: Bring Your Own Booze party. A leaked email shows No 10 staff were invited to an event in the Downing Street garden. Mr Johnson has admitted he was there for 25 minutes, but said he thought it was a ‘work event’.
June 1: First lockdown begins to ease. Public permitted to meet outside in groups of up to six people. Meeting indoors is still banned.
– June 18 2020: Cabinet Office leaving do. Sue Gray’s interim report said a gathering in the 70 Whitehall building was held to mark the departure of a No 10 private secretary. The Telegraph said 20 people attended, with alcohol consumed.
– June 19 2020: Boris Johnson’s 56th birthday. He, his wife Carrie and Rishi Sunak were all fined for attending surprise get-together in Cabinet Room.
– September 14: Rising cases led to the re-introduction of ‘rule of six’ indoors and outdoors. By the end of the month, the work from home begins again and a 10pm curfew came into force for pubs, bars and restaurants
– November 5: Second national lockdown begins. Non-essential businesses close and people banned from meeting indoors with anyone not in their ‘support bubble’
– November 13: Downing Street flat do. Mrs Johnson reportedly hosted parties in the official flat over No 11 where she and Mr Johnson live, including one event on November 13, the night of Dominic Cummings’ acrimonious departure. A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s wife called the claim ‘total nonsense’.
– November 13: As shown in pictures released today Mr Johnson attended event for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and a close ally of Dom Cummings.
– November 27 2020: Another special adviser leaves. Mr Johnson reportedly gave a leaving speech at a gathering for Cleo Watson, another ally of Mr Cummings. Not investigated by police.
– December 10 2020: Department for Education Christmas drinks. Then education secretary Gavin Williamson reportedly threw a party and delivered a short speech. Not investigated by police.
– December 15 2020: An online Christmas quiz in No 10. The Prime Minister appeared on contestants’ screens at the quiz but insisted he broke no rules. Not investigated by police.
– December 17: Cabinet Office ‘Christmas party’. It was reported the do had been organised by a private secretary in Cabinet Secretary Simon Case’s team, and that it was included in digital calendars as: ‘Christmas party!’ and included an online quiz.
– December 17: Leaving drinks for former Covid Taskforce head Kate Josephs in the Cabinet Office. She later apologised.
– December 17: No 10 leaving do attended by PM, reported to be for Captain Steve Higham, then one of Mr Johnson’s private secretaries
– December 18: Downing Street Christmas party, featuring speeches, a cheese board, drinks and a Secret Santa gifts.
– January 4: Third lockdown begins following a rapid rise in Covid cases
– January 14: More Downing Street leaving drinks to mark the departure of two private secretaries. The other official’s identity is so far unknown.
– April 16: Leaving drinks on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. Downing Street apologised to Buckingham Palace after reported details emerged of boozy drinks parties, including one for outgoing communications director James Slack.
November 30: First report of potentially illegal gatherings within Downing Street emerge.
December 7: Mr Johnson says: ‘I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.’
December 7: ‘Footage emerged showing press secretary Allegra Stratton joking about the alleged party in 2020 leaked to ITV News. She later resigns.
December 8: Scotland Yard refuses to investigate, citing an ‘absence’ of evidence
January 25: After weeks of further revelations, Scotland Yard launches Operation Hillman, an investigation into allegations of Partygate lawbreaking
January 31: Sue Gray releases her interim report into Partygate
February 4: Five No10 aides resign over their role in Partgate, including Dan Rosenfield and comms chief Jack Doyle
March 29: Detectives issue the first 20 fixed penalty notices to people working in No10 for breaches of Covid laws.
April 12: A further 30 fines are issued, including to Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
May 12: Scotland Yard revealed it has issued more than 100 fines.
May 19: Scotland Yard reveals it has completed Operation Hillman, issuing 126 fines to 83 people in total.
Confusion had surrounded the ‘secret’ discussions between Mr Johnson and the top civil servant about her investigation into lockdown breaches, with both sides pointing the finger at the other when questioned over who instigated the initial meeting between Mr Johnson and Mrs Gray’s team.
There were a series of claims and counter-claims over the weekend about who wanted the ‘procedural’ meeting a few weeks ago, with Downing Street aides saying it was Ms Gray.
A senior press officer was even dramatically removed from Ms Gray’s team yesterday after suggesting she had not requested it.
Treasury minister Simon Clarke said in interviews this morning that the mandarin ‘instigated’ the encounter.
But within hours the PM’s official spokesman contradicted him, conceding that officials initially suggested the talks before Ms Gray’s team sent an official diary invitation.
The PM’s official spokesman tried to clear up the situation this morning by saying No10 officials initially made the request.
Asked whether officials told Ms Gray’s team that Mr Johnson would like to meet her, the spokesman told reporters: ‘No, this was not at the request of the Prime Minister.
‘It wasn’t framed in that way. It was suggested it may be helpful to have that meeting.
‘Obviously Sue Gray is independent, it is up to her whether she proceeds with any meeting with regards to her investigation.’
Pushed on why No 10 officials had suggested a meeting, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘There were reports, public reports, that the (Metropolitan Police’s) Hillman investigation might be coming to a conclusion, so it was discussed that it might be useful to give an overview of what Sue Gray and her team were planning in regards to publication and timings – the publication following the conclusion of the report.
‘I think those discussions had taken place at official level already.’
As No10 braces for the Sue Gray report into behaviour by senior politicians and officials while the rest of the country was obeying pandemic restrictions, critics have rounded on the PM because of what he said about the gathering in the Commons last December.
Asked by an opposition MP whether he could shed light on if there had been a party in Downing Street on November 13, 2020, he replied: ‘No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.’
The images also raise further questions for Scotland Yard’s investigation into Partygate. Metropolitan Police detectives recently issued fines to some of the people who attended the event that is pictured – but not to Mr Johnson himself.
Scotland Yard declined to explain why the PM was not fined over the 13 November event.
It comes as the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) was tonight urged to launch an investigation into why the PM wasn’t fined over the 13 November event.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper has written to the police watchdog calling for them to examine the Met’s Operation Hillman inquiry into events in No 10 and Whitehall.
Ms Cooper said: ‘The Met Police need to explain why Boris Johnson wasn’t fined for this event, despite being pictured in an apparent breach of the rules.
‘If anyone else had been pictured at a party like this during lockdown, surely this would have been enough evidence for them to be fined.
‘It does seem that there has been one rule for the Prime Minister and another for everyone else.
‘The complete lack of transparency in this investigation risks doing huge damage to public trust. We need urgent clarity from the Met over why Boris Johnson wasn’t fined when others were.
‘If the Met won’t set out the basis on which they made their decisions, then it’s absolutely right that they should face an investigation.’
Sources said Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray and the Metropolitan Police had examined ‘similar’ pictures of the event. The PM was not fined over it, but others were understood to have been given fixed penalty notices for attending, sparking calls last night for police to reconsider the case.
Although allies insist no party took place, Mr Johnson is pictured next to a table containing several open bottles of wine.
The PM previously told Parliament that no rules were broken at the event on November 13, 2020, the day Mr Cummings was forced out of No 10 after losing a power struggle with Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie. Mr Cain quit the same day. Police also investigated a second gathering that evening, but again Mr Johnson was not fined.
Asked in January whether a party had taken place that day, Mr Johnson told MPs: ‘No – but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.’
The Commons privileges committee is set to probe whether Mr Johnson knowingly misled Parliament – for which he could be suspended from the chamber.
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The Cabinet Office and the Met Police have had access to all information relevant to their investigations, including photographs. The Met has concluded their investigation and Sue Gray will publish her report in the coming days, at which point the Prime Minister will address Parliament in full.’
But Labour said the images left ‘no doubt now’ that Mr Johnson ‘lied’ to Parliament. Deputy leader Angela Rayner – who is under police investigation for her role in Sir Keir Starmer’s notorious Beergate incident in Durham – said: ‘While the British public were making huge sacrifices, Boris Johnson was breaking the law.’
No 10 yesterday tried to smooth tensions with Miss Gray (L) ahead of the publication of her report by insisting Mr Johnson (R) did not believe she was ‘playing politics’ with the issue, as his allies claimed over the weekend
There are claims Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is facing particularly heavy criticism from Ms Gray, even though he was not personally fined over the scandal
Tory former Cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt, who has not ruled out a leadership challenge, said the Partygate scandal was proving ‘incredibly uncomfortable’ for Mr Johnson.
He insisted it would be ‘dangerous’ to comment on a photo without ‘the context of the report that it goes out with’.
But, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, he added: ‘An open democracy is doing its job and politicians are being held to account for their actions in excruciating detail and it is, of course, incredibly uncomfortable for the Prime Minister.’
Mr Cummings said the photos were ‘proof’ that Mr Johnson had lied to MPs about Partygate and claimed a ‘cover up’ was the reason Mr Johnson was not fined over the event but others were.
He also repeated his demand for ‘regime change’ in Number 10.
On a visit to a school yesterday morning, Mr Johnson insisted it will not be ‘much longer’ until Ms Gray’s report is published, after Scotland Yard wrapped up their investigation last week.
There are claims Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is facing particularly heavy criticism from Ms Gray, even though he was not personally fined over the scandal.
Mr Johnson said he would not give a ‘running commentary’ on the developments.
Asked if the report was still an independent one, the premier said: ‘Of course, but on the process you are just going to have to hold your horses a little bit longer.
‘I don’t believe it will be too much longer and then I will be able to say a bit more.’
The report is being finalised after the conclusion of the separate inquiry by the Metropolitan Police, which saw 83 people handed at least one fixed penalty notice each in relation to eight separate dates.
Mr Johnson received just one fine, for his 56th birthday gathering in June 2020 when indoor mixing was banned – the same event that saw both his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak given penalties.
Downing Street breathed a sigh of relief last week after police confirmed they would not be getting any further punishments.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who previously retracted his call for the PM to resign, said: ‘To most, these pictures seem unjustifiable and wrong.’
Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said the PM’s position was ‘not tenable’, adding: ‘It’s absolutely clear that there was a party. He misled us from the despatch box. And, honourably, there is one answer.’
But fellow Tory MP Peter Bone said of the image: ‘I don’t think it looks like that [a party] at all.’
No 10 yesterday tried to smooth tensions with Miss Gray ahead of the publication of her report by insisting Mr Johnson did not believe she was ‘playing politics’ with the issue, as his allies claimed over the weekend.
The PM’s spokesman also said the idea for a so-called secret meeting between Mr Johnson and Miss Gray this month had originated in No 10.