Downing Street has failed to deny that Boris Johnson took part in a birthday gathering in his flat above No 11 during lockdown in 2020.
Andrew Woodcock www.independent.co.uk
Reports at the weekend suggested that Mr Johnson joined his wife Carrie and friends in the flat to celebrate his 56th birthday at a time when indoor gatherings were banned.
The alleged event, which supposedly took place just hours after a cake presentation in the cabinet room for which both Johnsons were fined by police, was not mentioned in last week’s Partygate report by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
Asked eight times at a regular Westminster media briefing on Monday whether the event took place as described, a senior No 10 spokesperson failed to deny it.
Instead, they repeatedly referred to the terms of reference for the Gray inquiry, telling reporters: “That was clear that they were able to look into other gatherings that they received credible allegations for, and those would be covered in the general findings in her final report.
“Downing Street staff were given clear guidance to retain any relevant information and cooperate fully with the investigation. And you’ve seen the result – Sue Gray published her final report last week and the Met Police have concluded their investigations also.”
Ms Johnson is alleged to have sent texts to a No 10 aide that indicate she hosted a gathering with at least two male friends in the Downing Street flat on the evening of 19 June 2020. Covid rules at the time prohibited indoor gatherings of two or more people, except for work purposes.
According to The Sunday Times, the aide sent Ms Johnson a message saying her husband was on his way back to the Downing Street flat at 6.15pm. The Daily Telegraph reported that Ms Johnson responded: “Great. I am already here with the gays,” an affectionate reference to close gay male friends.
Downing Street had previously acknowledged two birthday events on 19 June – one in the cabinet room and another when Mr Johnson lawfully met with siblings outdoors in his garden. However, in January No 10 dismissed the existence of a third event as “totally untrue”.
It is understood that the Downing Street aide reported the existence of the messages to the Gray team in January, but it is unclear whether they were handed over for consideration by the inquiry.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has called on the Commons privileges committee to investigate the allegations as part of its inquiry, expected to start next month, into whether Mr Johnson lied to parliament.
She said: “It appears that No 10 has now stopped denying that another lockdown-breaking secret gathering took place in the Downing Street flat.
“Less than a week after the release of the Gray report, this raises serious questions about whether Downing Street has been caught lying yet again and why the event has not been investigated.
“The prime minister must come clean with the British people.”
Downing Street today confirmed that Mr Johnson will “engage” with the privileges committee inquiry, expected to be led by senior Labour MP Harriet Harman.
Asked whether the PM was ready to give evidence to the inquiry, the No 10 spokesperson said: “We’ve said before that we will engage with the committee. It’s obviously for them to set out the process and the next steps.”