Boris Johnson is facing renewed pressure over Partygate lawbreaking tonight after pictures were published showing him drinking at a lockdown-busting Downing Street event.
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, ITV News released images of the PM with a glass in hand at an event in late 2020, when such gatherings were banned.
He can be seen making a toast with around eight other people in shot at what is believed to be a leaving do for his outgoing director of communications Lee Cain on November 13, 2020.
The PM is seen in a suit and tie, with a ministerial red box on the table in front of him. There are also an assortment of wine bottles visible.
Critics 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.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) were tonight urged to launch an investigation into why the PM wasn’t fined over the 13 November event.
Scotland Yard declined to explain why the PM was not fined over the 13 November event and offered no comment beyond what they said last week, when the force announced the completion of their Operation Hillman investigation into Partygate.
The photographs were heralded by former No10 chief Dominic Cummings – who dramatically walked out the same night carrying a box of his belongings after losing a bitter power struggle with Carrie Johnson. He said earlier today that he expected visual evidence to emerge within 48 hours and be hugely damaging to the PM.
There were also claims a separate party with loud Abba music was held in the No11 flat that evening to celebrate the ousting of Mr Cain and Mr Cummings. However, the premier is thought to have insisted he was interviewing one of those present for a potential job at the second event.
The photo release will fuel speculation that this is the first of a tranche of embarrassing images that could be released in coming days and weeks.
Downing Street declined to defend the scene portrayed, saying the PM will comment after the Sue Gray report into Partygate is published in the coming days.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: ‘The Cabinet Office and the Met Police have had access to all information relevant to their investigations, including photographs.
‘The Met have 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.’
Downing Street has indicated it will not resist the inclusion in Ms Gray’s looming report of potentially dozens of images from events that broke the rules, in the hope they can help convince the public that there were not ‘raves’ going on.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘Boris Johnson said repeatedly that he knew nothing about law-breaking – there’s no doubt now, he lied. Boris Johnson made the rules, and then broke them.’
The publication of the pictures was causing fresh angst among Conservative MPs tonight.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader and Moray MP, said: ‘These images will rightly make people across the country very angry.
‘The Prime Minister must outline why he believes this behaviour was acceptable. To most, these pictures seem unjustifiable and wrong.’
Influential Conservative backbencher Steve Baker, who last month called for the PM to resign, highlighted a Government advert from the pandemic urging people to look a Covid patient ‘in the eyes and tell her you never bend the rules’.
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 can be seen raising a glass in a toast in the pictures that have surfaced tonight
Mr Johnson is apparently giving a speech to a room full of staff in the photographs from November 2020
On the evening of November 13 2020, Dominic Cummings pointedly exited the front door of Downing Street carrying a box of his belongings
Boris Johnson (pictured right today) is bracing for Sue Gray (left) to deliver damning conclusions about lockdown breaches in Whitehall 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
Influential Conservative backbencher Steve Baker, who last month called for the PM to resign, shared on Twitter a Government advert from the pandemic urging people to look a Covid patient ‘in the eyes and tell her you never bend the rules’
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.
The Liberal Democrats are urging the IOPC to investigate why the PM wasn’t fined over the 13 November event.
The party’s deputy leader Rosie Cooper wrote to watchdog to look into why Scotland Yard didn’t take action against Mr Johnson for his presence at the gathering.
She said: ‘The Metropolitan Police has so far failed to offer any statement of clarification regarding their decision-making process.
‘They have not set out the evidential thresholds which they used to determine whether fixed penalty notices (FPNs) should be issued.
‘The result of this lack of transparency is that the release of photographs such as that of the Prime Minister drinking in Downing Street, on an occasion for which he was not fined, will likely create considerable public confusion.
‘In particular, it is hard to understand why some individuals, in particular more junior members of staff, who attended the same gatherings as the Prime Minister received questionnaires and FPNs, while the Prime Minister did not.’
It comes with Downing Street embroiled in confusion over ‘secret’ discussions between Mr Johnson and the top civil servant about her investigation into lockdown breaches in Whitehall – due to be released within days.
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 Lib Dems have tried to turn up the heat on the premier by tabling a motion that could force the release of information about contacts between Mr Johnson and Ms Gray – who has a reputation for being fiercely independent.
On a visit to a school this 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.
However, there have been reports Mr Case will come in for ‘stinging criticism’ in the Gray report.
‘As the head of the civil service, the ultimate responsibility was his,’ one source told the Telegraph.
Meanwhile, there is a row about a meeting between Mr Johnson and Ms Gray, which took place several weeks ago.
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.’
The spokesman added: ‘As you would expect for reports like this, it is understandable that there would be a need to share information on things like timings and publication process because obviously there is a process for No 10 and the Prime Minister that would flow off the back of Sue Gray completing her report.
‘So that then helps with our planning purposes and things like that.’
The spokesman said the meeting was minuted, but insisted the record would not be released.#
‘I believe it was minuted in the usual way,’ they said.
Pressed on whether the information would be made public, he replied: ‘No, it was a private meeting. We wouldn’t publish details of a private meeting.’
Downing Street also said it would not be publishing a ‘cast list’ of who joined the meeting from both sides.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said reports of the meeting was a ‘new low’ for the Government.
During a tour of a large Sainsbury’s store in Nine Elms, south London, on Monday, Sir Keir urged for Ms Gray’s full report into partygate to be published as soon as possible.
He told journalists: ‘I always had a concern that as we got to the publication of the Sue Gray report, there will be attempts by the Government to undermine her and undermine the report.
‘That’s what we’ve seen going on over the weekend in recent days, a new low for the Government.
‘What we do know is there was industrial-scale law-breaking in Downing Street – over 120 fines. So what we need now is the full report, all of the evidence.
Mr Johnson seemed unperturbed by the impending Partygate reckoning during his visit to Orpington today
The PM joked with children at St Mary Cray Primary Academy as he waits for the conclusions of the Gray inquiry
Mr Johnson chatted happily with pupils on his visit to the schools in south-east London this morning
Treasury minister Simon Clarke said in a round of interviews this morning: ‘It is my understanding that the meeting was instigated by Ms Gray.’
From a suitcase ‘full of booze’ to ‘BYOB’ bashes and a raucous garden gathering that ended in baby Wilf’s swing being broken – the details of the parties held at No10 while the rest of the nation was in lockdown have caused widespread fury
‘It’s the least the public is entitled to from this Government.’
But Treasury minister Simon Clarke said in a round of interviews this morning: ‘It is my understanding that the meeting was instigated by Ms Gray.’
He continued: ‘There are lots of practical questions here that need to be bottomed out in terms of, for example, who can be named in this report and the extent to which photographic evidence can be included. It is important that those practical dimensions are resolved.’
He added: ‘I think the one thing I would say about Sue Gray, and I have never met her but I have heard a great deal about her, is that by repute she is one of the most fiercely independent and professional civil servants in the whole of Government and brings a vast range of experience to bear, so I don’t think there is any politics.’
He said: ‘In no way do I think there is anything other than a practical dimension to the question of when it comes out, now that the police have concluded their investigation.’
Mr Clarke also confirmed that there is consideration of whether photos should be included in the report.
‘It’s obviously a very complicated one in terms of what can or cannot be said about, for example, naming, for example, junior civil servants, inclusion of questions, like photos, these are things which need to be bottomed out as a technical issue before publication, and rightly so because there are very considerable legal and personal sensitivities to that information potentially being disclosed,’ he said.
‘And it’s that which, as I understand it lies at the heart of the remaining discussions before publication.’
In a blog update, Mr Cummings said: ‘I expect photos of the PM will emerge very quickly, within the next 24-48 hours.
‘Any reasonable person looking at some of these photos will only be able to conclude that the PM obviously lied to the Commons, and possibly to the cops, and there is no reasonable story for how others were fined for event X but not him.’
After the November 13, 2020 photo emerged this evening, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: ‘While the British public were making huge sacrifices, Boris Johnson was breaking the law.
‘Boris Johnson said repeatedly that he knew nothing about law-breaking – there’s no doubt now, he lied. Boris Johnson made the rules, and then broke them.
‘The Prime Minister has demeaned his office. The British people deserve better. While Labour has a plan for tackling the cost-of-living crisis, Tory MPs are too busy defending the indefensible actions of Boris Johnson.’
Ms Gray’s report into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street comes after the Metropolitan Police concluded its £460,000 investigation after issuing 126 fines to 83 people.
No 10 hopes that Ms Gray’s report will mark the end of the saga, which has dominated headlines despite the Ukraine and cost-of-living crises and caused huge political damage to the Tories.
Tensions are also running high within No 10 over the fines, in particular the ‘gender divide’.
It is understood that about three-quarters of those receiving penalties were ‘young, female members of staff’.
Meanwhile, Tory MP Laura Farris suggested she may resign as a ministerial aide at the Foreign Office in order to continue in her role on the Commons Privileges Committee, which is set to investigate whether the PM intentionally misled Parliament over partygate.
Ms Farris, who is currently both a parliamentary private secretary (PPS) and a member of the committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour programme the two roles were ‘incompatible’ in the circumstances, and ‘that has to be resolved this week’.
‘One or other will go. If I am to remain on the committee, I will resign as a PPS so that there isn’t that conflict,’ she said.
Asked which option she was leaning towards, she said she thought it would be ‘the right thing to do’ to stay on the committee.
The committee’s chairman, Labour MP Chris Bryant, previously recused himself from the parliamentary investigation, having made his views on Mr Johnson’s conduct plain in the media.
Ms Gray issued an abbreviated version of her findings in January, after police announced they were investigating