The Deputy PM told Kay Burley about a Downing Street ‘party’ then stuttered ‘no, exactly, er, no, er, the, no no no no’ – as he insisted Dominic Cummings was talking ‘nonsense’ by claiming the PM lied
The deputy Prime Minister, who is in charge of the justice system, referred to a May 20 gathering as a “party” in a nightmare interview with Sky News – before hurriedly backtracking.
In an echo of his claim “the sea was closed” when he spent the fall of Kabul on holiday, he also complained claims the bash was thrown in his honour were “nonsense” because “I wasn’t invited”.
Twitter users compared the Cabinet minister to Private Pike from Dad’s Army while shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said: “It’s like an episode of Columbo, ‘there’s just one more thing, Mr Raab…’.”
It came as two serving ministers broke cover to offer criticism of the PM’s No10 operation – after six backbench MPs called for him to resign.
Science minister George Freeman said people in positions of power “shouldn’t seek to escape public responsibility or accountability”, adding: “The prime minister and his office should set the highest standards.”
Health minister Maria Caulfield said that whether or not rules were “technically” breached, “the spirit of the rules” was broken.
Mr Raab was dispatched to defend his boss after ex-aide Dominic Cummings said Boris Johnson lied to Parliament about a BYOB gathering on 20 May 2020.
The Prime Minister told MPs he “believed implicitly” it was a work event.
But Mr Cummings said principle private secretary (PPS) Martin Reynolds agreed to speak to Mr Johnson ahead of the event when another official said on e-mail that it broke the rules.
Mr Cummings also said he personally raised the “drinks party” with Boris Johnson and called No10 a “madhouse” but the Prime Minister “waved it aside”.
Asked if the Prime Minister should resign if he lied to Parliament, Mr Raab told Sky News’ Kay Burley: “I’m not going to speculate on hypothetical situations.”
Asked if he was aware of a drinking culture, the Justice Secretary replied: “No.”
But he added: “People were working extremely long hours, so it doesn’t surprise me if people, as you see in other walks of life, had a glass of wine or beer at the end of a very long week.”
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Mr Raab then remarked: “There was speculation that the May 20 party was held in my honour to thank me, it’s just ridiculous.”
When Kay Burley exclaimed “so it was a party!” he replied: “No, exactly, er, no, er, the, no no no no.
“This is the claim that was made, it was nonsense, I wasn’t invited and I didn’t attend.”
Speaking to Times Radio, the deputy PM defended Boris Johnson saying: “Look, the suggestion that he’s lied is nonsense.
“He’s made it very clear to the House of Commons, took questions on this, that he thought it was a work event.
“Of course, Sue Gray is looking into all of this, so I’m not going to start commenting on every little snippet that is further trailed in.
“That’s precisely why we have a proper investigation. And there’ll be full transparency when it reports.”
Mr Raab accepted “double standards” are “toxic” and he was well aware of public anger about the Downing Street bashes.
But he claimed: “I think there is something of a caricature that is being depicted against the incredibly professional, dedicated, hard work that I saw.”
Mr Cummings claims he told Boris Johnson “you’ve got to grip this madhouse” after the invite was sent out asking around 100 staff to attend the BYOB party at No10.
He says at least two senior officials told Boris Johnson’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds to cancel the garden party on May 20, 2020.
Mr Reynolds then allegedly checked with the PM whether the event could go ahead, and was told that it could.
Mr Cummings, a bitter foe of the PM since his departure from No10 in November 2020, also claimed he had challenged Mr Johnson himself.
If true, this means the PM lied to the house in his apology last week.
The Ministerial Code says: “Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.”
Xinhua News Agency/PA Images)
Mr Johnson attended the party, it is understood with his wife Carrie. He sparked widespread disbelief last week at PMQs when he claimed he “implicitly believed” it was work related.
In response to Mr Cummings’ claims, a No10 spokesman said last night: “It is untrue the Prime Minister was warned about the event in advance. As he said earlier this week, he believed implicitly that this was a work event.
“He has apologised to the House and is committed to making a further statement once the investigation concludes.”
But Mr Cummings’ allegations will increase the jitters of Tory MPs.
Senior Tory MP Steve Baker said his constituents were “about 60 to one against the PM” over the parties row.
The MP said “rule-makers must obey the rules”, but he said he would wait for Whitehall enforcer Sue Gray’s report before taking any action.
Several MPs told the Mirror they had received hundreds of emails from furious constituents about the PM’s apparent rule-breaking.
Others said their local associations had urged them to put in a letter to kick off a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson.
One Tory told the Mirror: “The PM is fatally damaged, way beyond repair. Activists are refusing to campaign at the local elections until he is gone.”
Sue Gray, whose report is expected later this week, is understood to have interviewed Mr Johnson, and No10 sources claim he has “shared what he knows”.