Good morning. Partygate has now got a lot, lot worse for Boris Johnson. It would be surprising if the number of Conservative MPs coming to the conclusion that they will have a better chance of reelection at the next election under a different leader has not increased overnight, or if those Tories already inclined to that view are not feeling a bit more certain this morning.
It was not as if partygate was not highly damaging, and even potentially career-threatening, in the first place. But the latest revelations – starting with Dominic Cummings publishing a blog on Friday saying that there had been a lockdown-busting party in Downing Street on 20 May last year (“I and at least one other Spad [in writing so Sue Gray can dig up the original email and the warning] said that this seemed to be against the rules and should not happen”), followed by the Sunday Times suggesting that Boris Johnson was there, and culminating in ITV’s Paul Brand publishing the email invitation sent by Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds – have taken this to a new level. Here is our overnight story summarising the situation.
Why is this so much worse? There are at least three reasons.
1) No 10 has been able to half-defend previous partygate allegations by claiming that they were essentially work meetings involving some drink late in the day. For some events, like the 18 December Christmas party, this defence was highly improbable. But it does not function at all in the light of the email invitation from Reynolds sent to staff ahead of the 20 May do. Reynolds wrote:
Hi all, After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!
Even Lord Geidt would have to conclude that this was an invitation to a party, not a work invitation.
2) Boris Johnson was almost certainly there himself. Witnesses have told journalists he attended, and he and No 10 have declined multiple invitations to deny this. That means that another key defence deployed until now in response to partygate – that Johnson did not know what staff might have been up to in what is a relatively large office complex – is no longer tenable.
3) The Metropolitan police, who have done their best to avoid being dragged into previous allegations, seem more likely to investigate this one.
Edward Argar, the health minister, has been doing the morning interview round on behalf of No 10. He refused to explain what happened, sticking to the No 10 line from Monday that these were all matters for the partygate investigation being conducted by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant. But he said that “appropriate disciplinary action” should be taken if Gray found the rules had been broken, and that he could understand why people were “upset and angry” about the reports.
But Labour said that Johnson had to explain himself now instead of just waiting for the Gray investigation to conclude. Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said:
Boris Johnson’s deflections and distractions are no longer tenable.
Sue Gray is a highly respected civil servant who will be carrying out an investigation to the highest standard.
But the truth is out now. Not only did Boris Johnson know about the parties, he attended them and he lied.
It’s time for the prime minister to stop hiding behind Whitehall inquiries and finally come clean.
Rayner is referring to the many times Johnson told MPs in the Commons that no rules were broken (although generally Johnson was talking in response to questions about Christmas parties, rather than partying at any time).
Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change minister, made a similar argument on the Today programme. He said:
It’s all very well that we are having Sue Gray’s inquiry, but the prime minister cannot run and he cannot hide. He’s got to answer. If I went to a party, I know I went to the party. He’s got to explain – was he at the party?
How can he possibly justify all of the things he said in the House of Commons – that no rules were broken, that he did nothing wrong? He is going to have to answer.
It speaks to a rotten culture at the heart of this government and the rotten culture begins with the person in charge.
And this is from Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.
10am: Lord Evans, chair of the committee on standards in public life, gives evidence to the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee on governance standards in the light of the Greensill affair.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
12pm: The Department for Education publishes pupil attendance figures.
12pm: Eluned Morgan, the Welsh government’s health minister, holds a Covid briefing.
After 12.45pm: MPs begin debating a Labour motion calling for VAT on fuel to be cut, and setting aside parliamentary time for a bill implementing this to be debated.
2.20pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, gives a statement to the Scottish parliament on Covid.
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