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Boris Johnson denies lying to parliament about No 10 parties after Cummings’ claim

It comes after Dominic Raab said this morning that Johnson would “normally” be expected to resign if he lied to parliament.

Boris Johnson during a visit to Finchley Memorial Hospital in north London today.
Boris Johnson during a visit to Finchley Memorial Hospital in north London today.
Image: PA

BORIS JOHNSON HAS denied lying to the British parliament about a gathering in No 10’s garden during the first lockdown, despite his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings saying he would swear on oath that he warned the British Prime Minister it would be a rule-breaking drinks party.

In a major interview today, Johnson said he had told the Whitehall inquiry into the allegations that to the “best of my recollection” ahead of the 20 May 2020 event “nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules”.

The Prime Minister said that he does “humbly apologise to people for misjudgments that were made” as he faces calls to resign over the partygate affair, including from six Tory MPs.

He made his first public appearance after reducing his contacts from when No 10 said a family member tested positive for Covid-19 last week, as Chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to give the Prime Minister his unequivocal backing.

Asked if he had lied to Parliament over the parties during a visit to a north London hospital, Johnson said: “No. I want to begin by repeating my apologies to everybody for the misjudgments that I’ve made, that we may have made in No 10 and beyond, whether in Downing Street or throughout the pandemic.

“Nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules, that the event in question was something that … was not a work event, and as I said in the House of Commons when I went out into that garden I thought that I was attending a work event.”

Johnson said he “could not imagine why on earth it would have gone ahead, or why it would’ve been allowed to go ahead” if he had been told it was not a “work event”.

“I do humbly apologise to people for misjudgments that were made but that is the very, very best of my recollection about this event, that’s what I’ve said to the inquiry,” he said.

“I carry full responsibility for what took place but nobody told me, I’m absolutely categorical, nobody said to me this is an event that is against the rules.”

He insisted he only saw the “bring your own booze” invite that his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds sent to more than 100 staff “the other day… when it emerged”.

“Nobody warned me that it was against the rules, I am absolutely categorical, because I would remember that,” he added.

Johnson also publicly apologised to Queen Elizabeth over two staff parties that were held in Downing Street the night before Prince Philip’s funeral, saying: “I deeply and bitterly regret that that happened.”

“I can only renew my apologies both to Her Majesty and to the country for misjudgments that were made, and for which I take full responsibility,” he added.

He declined to say whether he would resign if it emerged he did intentionally mislead parliament, instead pleading for patience ahead of senior civil servant Sue Gray delivering her verdict.

Dominic Raab

It comes after Dominic Raab said this morning that Johnson would “normally” be expected to resign if he intentionally misled the British parliament.

Raab insisted today that the allegation from Cummings that the Prime Minister lied to the Commons is “nonsense”.

Cummings said he is willing to “swear under oath” that Johnson had lied when claiming he did not know in advance that the 20 May 2020 event would be a “drinks party”.

In the Commons last week, the Prime Minister admitted spending 25 minutes at the gathering but insisted he had believed “implicitly” that it would be a work event.

Raab told Times Radio: “The suggestion that he lied is nonsense. He’s made it very clear to the House of Commons that questions on this… that he thought it was a work event.”

But the Cabinet minister was pressed on what would be expected if Johnson had lied to the Commons.

“If it’s lying, deliberate in the way you describe, if it’s not corrected immediately, it would normally under the ministerial code and the governance around Parliament be a resigning matter,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Yesterday, Cummings said he and another senior official warned the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, that his invitation to around 100 staff was against coronavirus rules.

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“I said to the PM something like: ‘Martin’s invited the building to a drinks party, this is what I’m talking about, you’ve got to grip this madhouse’. The PM waved it aside,” Cummings wrote on his blog.

“The events of May 20 alone, never mind the string of other events, mean the PM lied to Parliament about parties.

“Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened.”

A No 10 spokesman insisted Johnson had apologised to the House and that he “believed implicitly” that he had been attending a work event.

“It is untrue that the Prime Minister was warned about the event in advance,” the spokesman said, adding that Johnson would be making a further statement when senior civil servant Sue Gray has completed her inquiry into party allegations.

The latest salvo from Cummings, who left Downing Street in November 2020, is adding to the pressure on Johnson as he faces public calls to resign from six Tory MPs and widespread anger over claims that No 10 staff broke the Covid rules they imposed.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson does not need to wait for Ms Gray’s report and called on him to step down now.

“Instead of hiding behind internal inquiries or technicalities, we need the Prime Minister to tell the truth, pure and simple,” she said. “He must resign.”

After allegations of a Christmas party during restrictions in 2020 first emerged, Mr Johnson told the Commons he had been “repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

But after an email surfaced of Mr Reynolds inviting colleagues to the May 20 2020 event, the Prime Minister admitted in the Commons last week that he attended to “thank groups of staff”.

“I believed implicitly that this was a work event,” he said, before conceding he “should have sent everyone back inside” but claiming it may “technically” have fallen within the rules.

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