19 Jan 2022

Boris Johnson denies he was warned drinks party was against the rules

8:09 am on 19 January 2022

Boris Johnson has "categorically" denied he was warned a drinks party in the garden of 10 Downing Street - the UK prime minister's official residence and office - risked breaking lockdown rules.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street on 12 January 2022.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (file) Photo: AFP / NurPhoto

"Nobody warned me that it was against the rules," the prime minister said, adding: "I would have remembered that."

Former aide Dominic Cummings says he warned Johnson at the time, and has accused him of misleading MPs about it.

Asked if he would resign if he was found to have misled MPs, Johnson said: "Let's see what the report says."

Senior civil servant Sue Gray is due to publish a report into alleged Covid rule breaking at lockdown get-togethers in Downing Street and government departments.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg has reported a group MPs who were first elected in 2019 have been meeting to discuss the situation, with conversations about a group of them submitting letters on Wednesday afternoon calling for the party to hold a vote of confidence in Mr Johnson's leadership.

It is not clear how many of those with concerns will go ahead and submit a secret letter calling for a contest, but a senior MP told the BBC it could be "a matter of hours" before things move, Kuenssberg said.

Johnson also made a public apology to the Queen over No 10 parties on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral in April last year.

Appearing to be distressed as he was quizzed about the parties, he said: "I deeply and bitterly regret that that happened.

"I can only renew my apologies both to Her Majesty and to the country for misjudgements that were made, and for which I take full responsibility."

On Friday, Downing Street apologised to Buckingham Palace over the two staff parties - which were not attended by Johnson - on 16 April, 2021.

The following day, the Queen sat alone - socially distanced from her family - as she mourned her husband.

'End of the road'

In his blog, Dominic Cummings, who was still working in Downing Street at the time of the drinks party on 20 May 2020, claimed the PM had waved aside his warnings.

Cummings said the idea that a senior aide - the PM's Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds - would not have checked with Johnson, after he was warned his invitation to drinks in the Number 10 garden broke the rules, "is not credible".

Two other former Downing Street officials told the BBC they remembered Cummings telling them on that day he had advised the prime minister not to allow the drinks to go ahead.

Asked about Cummings' claims on a visit to a North London hospital, Johnson said: "I can tell you categorically that nobody said that this was something that was against the rules, that was in breach of the Covid rules."

Responding to his latest statement, Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said: "Boris Johnson clearly knows it's the end of the road.

"He's the prime minister, he set the rules, he didn't need anyone to tell him that the party he attended broke them.

"If he had any respect for the British public, he would do the decent thing and resign."

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the prime minister was "just making it worse for himself" with his "empty excuses" and "transparent lies".

The SNP's deputy Westminster leader Kirsten Oswald said it was "clear the prime minister was not being frank" about events in the Downing Street garden.

In his interview, Johnson repeated the apology he made to MPs last week for "mistakes" made over the May 2020 get-together.

"As I said in the House of Commons, when I went out into that garden I thought that I was attending a work event."

He said he had not seen the email sent by Mr Reynolds inviting staff to "socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden".

"I only saw it the other day. I only saw it when it emerged," said the PM.

"What I remember is going out into that garden for a short time and for 25 minutes thanking staff who'd worked on Covid, who were continuing to work on Covid, and then going back to office.

"If I had my time again, I would not have allowed things to develop in that way."

Asked if he had lied to Parliament over the parties, he said: "No. I want to begin by repeating my apologies to everybody for the misjudgements that I've made, that we may have made in No 10 and beyond, whether in Downing Street or throughout the pandemic."

Johnson said he would make a further statement on alleged rule-breaking in Downing Street when Sue Gray publishes her report, which is expected shortly.

Six Conservative MPs have publicly declared no confidence in the prime minister so far, while Labour, the Liberal Democrats and SNP are urging him to resign.

Fifty-four Tory MPs must write letters calling for Johnson to go in order to trigger a party leadership contest.

Cabinet ministers have rallied round the prime minister, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak saying "of course" he believed Johnson's version of events, while deputy PM Dominic Raab said prime ministers would normally be expected to resign if they had been found to have misled MPs, but he believed Johnson would remain in power for "many years".


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