Partygate: PM under fresh scrutiny following release of photographs

Published by Scott Challinor on May 24th 2022, 11:11am

On the week that senior civil servant Sue Gray’s full report into Partygate is due to be published, prime minister Boris Johnson is facing fresh scrutiny after photos emerged of him drinking at an event which allegedly took place during lockdown.

The image, first published by ITV News, shows the prime minister drinking at a leaving party for his former head of communications, Lee Cain, believed to have taken place on November 13, 2020.

The PM is seen raising a toast to his colleagues while stood by a table visibly laden with wine bottles, drinks glasses and food.

The BBC reports that at least one individual in attendance at the event received a fixed penalty notice following the Metropolitan Police’s investigation into Partygate, but the PM did not.

Johnson has received one fine following the Met’s probe into the affair, relating to a small gathering in celebration of his birthday in the Cabinet Room of Number 10 in June 2020.

However, the force is now facing questions over why the prime minister was not fined over the event November 13, 2020.

The Liberal Democrats have written to the Independent Office for Police Conduct requesting that the Met’s investigation into Partygate is scrutinised, while Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan suggested the Met ought to “explain why they have reached their conclusions and provide that clarity.”

At the time the gathering took place, the second Covid lockdown was in force and indoor gatherings of two or more people were not permitted, unless deemed “reasonably necessary” for work purposes only.

The PM has previously been questioned in Parliament over whether a gathering took place on November 13, 2020. He denied a gathering had occurred and insisted that he’d been assured lockdown rules were always observed within Downing Street.

Labour shadow secretary for work and pensions, Jonathan Ashworth, highlighted the PM’s historic comments and called on Conservative MPs to push for his removal on the grounds that he was culpable misleading Parliament.

Under government guidelines, ministers who knowingly mislead MPs are expected to resign.

Meanwhile, Robert Buckland, the Conservative former justice secretary, commented: “If there's a deliberate lie, I can't see how anybody, including this prime minister, can continue.

“There are things we say honestly and genuinely at the time that we believe to be true... now that's one thing. Going and deliberately saying X is Y knowing that is the case is, of course, beyond the pale.”

Ruth Davidson, the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, went further by saying that Johnson’s position was now untenable and that he was culpable of lying to MPs.

In the image concerned, Johnson’s ministerial red box is visible. His fellow cabinet minister, transport secretary Grant Shapps, has leapt to his defence in suggesting that the PM was “probably on his way through” and was not guilty of knowingly rule-breaking and misleading the Commons over his account of events.

Shapps said: “I think he's popped down there to raise a glass and say thank you to a long-term member of staff who is leaving.”

Shapps also highlighted that the Met had already “thoroughly investigated” the event in question and arrived at the conclusion that the PM was not guilty of any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, a Downing Street spokesperson has said that the unredacted Sue Gray report will be published “in the coming days”, after which the PM would address the Commons “in full”.

The spokesperson also raised the point that the Metropolitan Police had been handed photographs as part of its investigation and would have done its due diligence on the November 13, 2020, event.

The BBC reports that Sue Gray’s full inquest report could be handed to Downing Street and made available as early as Wednesday.

While the publication of the Sue Gray report could pile further pressure on the PM, Johnson is also facing a probe by the Commons Privileges Committee over whether he did knowingly mislead his fellow MPs. 

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

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Scott Challinor
Business Editor
May 24th 2022, 11:11am

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