LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing the most serious allegation yet of breaking coronavirus lockdown rules — and this one directly involves him and his wife.
The prime minister has ordered an inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray who is looking into multiple claims of social gatherings in government during COVID restrictions.
Despite huge public and press interest, ministers and the prime minister’s official spokesman are refusing to go into details while Gray’s investigation is ongoing.
It comes after a leaked email showed Johnson’s top civil servant invited 100 staff to a “BYOB” bash in Downing Street’s garden during the first lockdown.
The scandal has put the prime minister under huge pressure to “come clean” after it was alleged he and his wife Carrie attended the event on May 20, 2020. He is also facing the threat of a probe by the Metropolitan Police Service.
At the time, only two people were allowed to socialize outside at a two-meter distance in England. There was an exemption for “essential work,” but the guidance stated meetings and gatherings should be minimised.
Pressed on why they will not discuss it, Johnson’s spokesman told journalists on Tuesday: “It’s simply the case that we wouldn’t want to be seen to be prejudging that ongoing work.
“Given the claims and speculation that’s been reported on, what’s right is that the independent inquiry is allowed to carry out its work and we’re not seen to prejudge that in any way by only setting out our position to that investigation.”
During the exchange it was also revealed that the issue was not discussed in today’s cabinet meeting and that No. 10 was standing by the aide who sent the “BYOB” email.
Here, HuffPost outlines what the prime minister’s spokesman told journalists when he was repeatedly asked about the latest allegation.
Why does the PM think it’s a matter for Sue Gray whether or not he attended the party? Why can he not say?
Spokesman: “As has been set out by [health minister] Ed Argar this morning and as I’ve talked about yesterday, whilst this investigation is ongoing I can’t comment on the reports and claims including those we’ve seen today.
“It wouldn’t be appropriate to do so. I appreciate there may be a significant number of questions but that remains our position.”
Does the PM not think it makes him look as though he has something to hide — the fact he will not confirm whether he was at this event?
Spokesman: “I think what everyone wants to do is establish the facts through this independent review and for those facts to be set out clearly once that work is concluded.”
Has the PM received assurances that on May 20 there was “no party”?
Spokesman: “Again, I’m simply going to have to repeat myself. I’m not going to be commenting on those claims and other claims regarding different dates while this work is ongoing.”
Brits who have lost loved ones as well as Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs have accused the prime minister of lying on this issue. What’s the government’s response?
Spokesman: “You’ve seen what the prime minister has said about this previously. I point you back to his previous words but beyond that I’m not going to comment.”
Do you want to take this opportunity to respond to all the allegations in the media today from ordinary Brits and MPs that he is a “liar” and “lied” over parties. Has he lied to the Commons or the public?
Spokesman: “As I say, again, without wanting to repeat myself, the prime minister has addressed those sorts of questions on numerous occasions. I don’t have anything to add.”
The PM told the Commons he was “furious” to see the Christmas party clip featuring Allegra Stratton. Is he “furious” over the Martin Reynolds email?
Spokesman: “I think the prime minister was asked about this when he did his [broadcast] clip yesterday. He made clear he wouldn’t comment whilst the investigation is ongoing and that remains our position.”
Have you asked the PM whether he attended the event on May 20?
Spokesman: “I’m not going to get into the conversations I’ve had with a prime minister. Again, what’s right is that the investigation is able to carry out its work.”
Did the PM follow all lockdown rules at all times?
Spokesman: “You’ve got the prime minister’s words on this. He’s been asked about it a number of occasions, I don’t seek to add to that. But again, I’m not going to comment.”
Was Simon Case [Cabinet Secretary] at the May 20 event or invited?
Spokesman: “Again, all of those questions about who was invited and that sort of thing are rightly for the inquiry. Without wanting to repeat myself, I’m not going to comment further.”
Did some No. 10 staff express concerns or reservations about the invitation to the May 20 party?
Spokesman: “I’m afraid I’ll have to give the same answer again.”
If the Met police start investigating the May 20 event — what does that mean for Sue Gray’s investigation?
Spokesman: “I think the Cabinet Office has been clear that they’re in contact with the police and obviously the police have the ability to start an investigation should they see fit to do so. That would then pause the work that’s being done by the Cabinet Office team.”
What can you tell us about the communications between the Met Police and the Cabinet Office? Have they asked for evidence?
Spokesman: “I’m not going to get into that I’m afraid in terms of what the police have and haven’t asked for — that wouldn’t be one for me.”
If the PM did attend, did he bring his own bottle?
Spokesman: “Again, without wanting to be repetitious, I’m not going to comment.”
Does the PM accept the damage these claims are doing to his party and to public confidence in the government? Does he think his credibility has been damaged? Has he considered resigning?
Spokesman: “Obviously party matters aren’t one for me. You’ll have seen from the Cabinet readout and wider action, the government’s work is on addressing priorities for the public, including on housing safety just yesterday and of course the ongoing COVID-19 response.”