Boris in the danger zone after Partygate photos surface
Boris Johnson is deep in the danger zone today as Tory MPS vent fury at Partygate photos of him boozing with aides and ministers admit they are ‘not comfortable’.
The PM is again fighting for his political life after visual evidence of lockdown breaches in Downing Street started to emerge – with more expected in Sue Gray’s full report as early as tomorrow.
Leaked images showed Mr Johnson apparently toasting his outgoing communications chief Lee Cain on November 13, 2020 – a time when social gatherings were banned.
Mr Johnson was said to have made a farewell speech praising Mr Cain as ‘the only one of my staff who always answers the phone calls… day or night’. And the pair posed together wearing ‘Get Brexit Done’ boxing gloves.
Downing Street has insisted the premier left after about 15 minutes – but there are claims that he was personally responsible for pouring drinks for the toast.
The Met has confirmed the event was among those that saw fines issued – but refused to say how many or who received them. Mr Johnson was not punished over the bash, but it is thought that Mr Cain and fellow spin doctor James Slack could have been at risk of a penalty.
Fingers have been pointed at Dominic Cummings, who was ousted the same night after losing a power struggle and has since been waging a campaign for ‘regime change’ in No 10, for masterminding the leaks.
The pictures are threatening to reignite a revolt that seemed to have fizzled out when the Met closed their investigation after only handing him one fine, with Tory MPs breaking cover to condemn the premier and suggest he should go.
The situation has been inflamed by claims that Mr Johnson held a ‘secret’ meeting with Ms Gray in recent weeks where he urged her to abandon publication of the report.
Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has waded into the row over whether Scotland Yard was too lenient on the PM, calling on the force to explain its reasoning.
In a round of interviews this morning, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps gave limited backing to the PM – insisting the toast in the latest photographs ‘should not have happened’.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘I think we, personally, find them very difficult to look at. I couldn’t see my own dad for four months during this period because he was in hospital and we thought we’d lost him at one point.
‘I think actually looking at this as well the Prime Minister will be disappointed.
‘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. My view is it shouldn’t have happened’
Mr Shapps declined to call it a party when pressed, instead saying: ‘It’s certainly a leaving event.’
Mr Johnson can be seen raising a glass in a toast in the leaked pictures that surfaced yesterday afternoon
On the evening of November 13 2020, Dominic Cummings pointedly exited the front door of Downing Street carrying a box of his belongings
Images published by ITV News showed the PM with a glass in hand making a toast with around eight other people in shot
Mr Johnson is apparently giving a speech to a room full of staff in the photographs from November 2020
Mr Johnson was flanked by civil service chief Simon Case (left) and Rishi Sunak (right) as he held Cabinet today
The leaks follow a fierce briefing war between No 10 and Sue Gray’s office following reports of ‘secret’ discussions between both sides
Mr Johnson and Lee Cain posed together wearing ‘Get Brexit Done’ boxing gloves after his leaving do in November 2020
– March 23: First Covid lockdown begins. Non-essential shops are closed and Britons are legally required to stay at home.
– April 5: Boris Johnson is admitted to hospital with Covid. He later spends days in intensive care before recovering and leaving hospital on April 12.
– May 15: Cheese and wine in the No 10 garden. A photograph emerged of a number of groups gathered in the No 10 garden, including Mr Johnson, Carrie Johnson, and aides Dom Cummings and Martin Reynolds sitting together on the terrace. Not investigated by police.
– May 20: Bring Your Own Booze party. A leaked email shows No 10 staff were invited to an event in the Downing Street garden. Mr Johnson has admitted he was there for 25 minutes, but said he thought it was a ‘work event’.
June 1: First lockdown begins to ease. Public permitted to meet outside in groups of up to six people. Meeting indoors is still banned.
– June 18 2020: Cabinet Office leaving do. Sue Gray’s interim report said a gathering in the 70 Whitehall building was held to mark the departure of a No 10 private secretary. The Telegraph said 20 people attended, with alcohol consumed.
– June 19 2020: Boris Johnson’s 56th birthday. He, his wife Carrie and Rishi Sunak were all fined for attending surprise get-together in Cabinet Room.
– September 14: Rising cases led to the re-introduction of ‘rule of six’ indoors and outdoors. By the end of the month, the work from home begins again and a 10pm curfew came into force for pubs, bars and restaurants
– November 5: Second national lockdown begins. Non-essential businesses close and people banned from meeting indoors with anyone not in their ‘support bubble’
– November 13: Downing Street flat do. Mrs Johnson reportedly hosted parties in the official flat over No 11 where she and Mr Johnson live, including one event on November 13, the night of Dominic Cummings’ acrimonious departure. A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s wife called the claim ‘total nonsense’.
– November 13: As shown in pictures released today Mr Johnson attended event for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and a close ally of Dom Cummings.
– November 27 2020: Another special adviser leaves. Mr Johnson reportedly gave a leaving speech at a gathering for Cleo Watson, another ally of Mr Cummings. Not investigated by police.
– December 10 2020: Department for Education Christmas drinks. Then education secretary Gavin Williamson reportedly threw a party and delivered a short speech. Not investigated by police.
– December 15 2020: An online Christmas quiz in No 10. The Prime Minister appeared on contestants’ screens at the quiz but insisted he broke no rules. Not investigated by police.
– December 17: Cabinet Office ‘Christmas party’. It was reported the do had been organised by a private secretary in Cabinet Secretary Simon Case’s team, and that it was included in digital calendars as: ‘Christmas party!’ and included an online quiz.
– December 17: Leaving drinks for former Covid Taskforce head Kate Josephs in the Cabinet Office. She later apologised.
– December 17: No 10 leaving do attended by PM, reported to be for Captain Steve Higham, then one of Mr Johnson’s private secretaries
– December 18: Downing Street Christmas party, featuring speeches, a cheese board, drinks and a Secret Santa gifts.
– January 4: Third lockdown begins following a rapid rise in Covid cases
– January 14: More Downing Street leaving drinks to mark the departure of two private secretaries. The other official’s identity is so far unknown.
– April 16: Leaving drinks on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. Downing Street apologised to Buckingham Palace after reported details emerged of boozy drinks parties, including one for outgoing communications director James Slack.
November 30: First report of potentially illegal gatherings within Downing Street emerge.
December 7: Mr Johnson says: ‘I am satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.’
December 7: ‘Footage emerged showing press secretary Allegra Stratton joking about the alleged party in 2020 leaked to ITV News. She later resigns.
December 8: Scotland Yard refuses to investigate, citing an ‘absence’ of evidence
January 25: After weeks of further revelations, Scotland Yard launches Operation Hillman, an investigation into allegations of Partygate lawbreaking
January 31: Sue Gray releases her interim report into Partygate
February 4: Five No10 aides resign over their role in Partgate, including Dan Rosenfield and comms chief Jack Doyle
March 29: Detectives issue the first 20 fixed penalty notices to people working in No10 for breaches of Covid laws.
April 12: A further 30 fines are issued, including to Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
May 12: Scotland Yard revealed it has issued more than 100 fines.
May 19: Scotland Yard reveals it has completed Operation Hillman, issuing 126 fines to 83 people in total.
The pictures were leaked to ITV News hours after Mr Cummings predicted more photos of events in No10 would emerge to coincide with the publication of Ms Gray’s Partygate report.
Government sources have argued that the ‘brief’ gathering did not amount to a party.
They added: ‘He’s in a suit, he’s got his [ministerial] red box with him – he’s at work – he’s just dropped in to say goodbye to a long-serving staff member as any boss would. It’s not a party.’
Mr Johnson is said to have made a speech thanking Mr Cain and stayed at the event for ten to 15 minutes before going to his flat.
Mr Johnson received a fixed-penalty notice over a birthday party in the Cabinet Room in June 2020 but was told he would face no further action over other gatherings covered by the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Hillman inquiry.
Tory MP Peter Aldous revealed today renewed calls for the PM to quit. Asked if he had withdrawn his letter of no confidence, Mr Aldous told GB News: ‘I haven’t, no. I thought long and hard back in late January, early February, as to whether I should do that,’ he said.
‘And I weighed up all manner of considerations and I concluded then that it would be best for the country, and dare I say it for the Conservative Party, if he did [resign].
‘And I’ve revisited that decision over the last few months, and I’ve decided that really those reasons are still there.’
Fellow Conservative David Simmonds warned it would be ‘difficult’ for Mr Johnson to explain the images.
The MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think most colleagues committed to their constituents that they would wait until they had sight of the full report from Sue Gray, I think that is still the case.
‘But clearly it does create an issue. We had a vote which the Conservative Party was neutral on in Parliament that there would be an investigation about what was said. Clearly it does raise a new question that we were all told very clearly that there definitely had not been a party on the day in question and these photographs have emerged which suggest that that’s not the case. We need to hear the Prime Minister’s explanation for that.’
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who previously retracted his call for the PM to resign, said: ‘To most, these pictures seem unjustifiable and wrong.’
Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said the PM’s position was ‘not tenable’, adding: ‘It’s absolutely clear that there was a party. He misled us from the despatch box. And, honourably, there is one answer.’
But fellow Tory MP Peter Bone said of the image: ‘I don’t think it looks like that [a party] at all.’
It comes as Whitehall insiders allege Mr Johnson suggested to Sue Gray that there was no need to publish her full report into lockdown-busting events held in Downing Street because Scotland Yard had concluded their probe.
One source told the Times: ‘They were exploring this idea of not having any report. It was being talked about. But politically they realised they couldn’t do it.’
Downing Street dismissed the claims, but Mr Shapps refused to repeat the flat denial.
He told Sky News: ‘I wasn’t in the room so I don’t know that’s the case.
‘Exactly what was discussed, I don’t know.
‘Occasionally things get reported that are not entirely accurate, the civil service were there to make sure that all the correct processes were followed so I have no particular reason for concern about the two of them meeting.’
Confusion had surrounded the ‘secret’ discussions between Mr Johnson and the top civil servant about her investigation into lockdown breaches, with both sides pointing the finger at the other when questioned over who instigated the initial meeting between Mr Johnson and Mrs Gray’s team.
There were a series of claims and counter-claims over the weekend about who wanted the ‘procedural’ meeting a few weeks ago, with Downing Street aides saying it was Ms Gray.
A senior press officer was even dramatically removed from Ms Gray’s team yesterday after suggesting she had not requested it.
Treasury minister Simon Clarke said in interviews yesterday morning that the mandarin ‘instigated’ the encounter.
But within hours the PM’s official spokesman contradicted him, conceding that officials initially suggested the talks before Ms Gray’s team sent an official diary invitation.
Asked whether officials told Ms Gray’s team that Mr Johnson would like to meet her, the spokesman told reporters: ‘No, this was not at the request of the Prime Minister.
‘It wasn’t framed in that way. It was suggested it may be helpful to have that meeting.
‘Obviously Sue Gray is independent, it is up to her whether she proceeds with any meeting with regards to her investigation.’
Pushed on why No 10 officials had suggested a meeting, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘There were reports, public reports, that the (Metropolitan Police’s) Hillman investigation might be coming to a conclusion, so it was discussed that it might be useful to give an overview of what Sue Gray and her team were planning in regards to publication and timings – the publication following the conclusion of the report.
‘I think those discussions had taken place at official level already.’
As No10 braces for the Sue Gray report into behaviour by senior politicians and officials while the rest of the country was obeying pandemic restrictions, critics have rounded on the PM because of what he said about the gathering in the Commons last December.
Asked by an opposition MP whether he could shed light on if there had been a party in Downing Street on November 13, 2020, he replied: ‘No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.’
The images also raise further questions for Scotland Yard’s investigation into Partygate.
Metropolitan Police detectives recently issued fines to some of the people who attended the event that is pictured – but not to Mr Johnson himself.
Scotland Yard declined to explain why the PM was not fined over the 13 November event.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has been urged to launch an investigation into why the PM wasn’t fined over the 13 November event.
And Labour Mayor of London Mr Khan said although he had ‘assiduously stayed well away’ from the investigation, the police ought to set out their reasoning.
‘But I think it’s important, when it comes to trust and confidence, when it comes to policing by consent, when it comes to questions being asked about the integrity of an investigation that the police explain why they’ve reached the conclusions they have,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Conservative source pointed the finger at Dominic Cummings (pictured leaving home this morning) for the leaks of photos
In a round of interviews this morning, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps gave limited backing to the PM – insisting the toast in the latest photographs ‘should not have happened’
Cabinet met this morning to discuss the cost-of-living crisis as Mr Johnson tries to keep the focus on policies
Who was at the No10 bash on November 13, 2020?
The leaving do for Lee Cain on November 13
Leaked images showed Boris Johnson apparently toasting his outgoing communications chief Lee Cain on November 13, 2020 – a time when social gatherings were banned.
Mr Johnson was said to have made a farewell speech praising Mr Cain as ‘the only one of my staff who always answers the phone calls… day or night’.
The pair later posed together wearing ‘Get Brexit Done’ boxing gloves.
Others rumoured to have been at the event include spin doctors James Slack and Jack Doyle.
The press office was apparently already in the middle of ‘Friday night drinks’ when Mr Johnson arrived.
Downing Street has insisted the premier left after about 15 minutes – but there are claims that he was personally responsible for pouring drinks for the toast.
The Met has confirmed the event was among those that saw fines issued – but refused to say how many or who received them. Mr Johnson was not punished over the bash.
‘And just like you I suspect, yesterday was the first time I saw the photograph of Boris Johnson raising a glass, clearly bottles of wine laying around, others with wine in their hand, on a day when he said in the Houses of Commons, and I speak as a former parliamentarian and I know the importance of not lying or misleading in the House of Commons, that there wasn’t a party.
‘So you know, of course, Sue Gray will publish her report this week and of course the Prime Minister will have to answer for himself, but I think the police should explain why they reached their conclusions and provide that clarity.’
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper has written to the police watchdog calling for them to examine the Met’s Operation Hillman inquiry into events in No 10 and Whitehall.
Ms Cooper said: ‘The Met Police need to explain why Boris Johnson wasn’t fined for this event, despite being pictured in an apparent breach of the rules.
‘If anyone else had been pictured at a party like this during lockdown, surely this would have been enough evidence for them to be fined.
‘It does seem that there has been one rule for the Prime Minister and another for everyone else.
‘The complete lack of transparency in this investigation risks doing huge damage to public trust. We need urgent clarity from the Met over why Boris Johnson wasn’t fined when others were.
‘If the Met won’t set out the basis on which they made their decisions, then it’s absolutely right that they should face an investigation.’
But Shapps suggested the Metropolitan Police do not need to explain further.
The Transport Secretary told the BBC: ‘I don’t think the police should provide running commentaries, no.’
Sources said Ms Gray and the Metropolitan Police had examined ‘similar’ pictures of the event.
The PM was not fined over it, but others were given fixed penalty notices for attending.
Although allies insist no party took place, Mr Johnson is pictured next to a table containing several open bottles of wine.
The PM previously told Parliament that no rules were broken at the event on November 13, 2020, the day Mr Cummings was forced out of No 10 after losing a power struggle with Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie. Mr Cain quit the same day. Police also investigated a second gathering that evening, but again Mr Johnson was not fined.
Asked in January whether a party had taken place that day, Mr Johnson told MPs: ‘No – but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.’
The Commons privileges committee is set to probe whether Mr Johnson knowingly misled Parliament – for which he could be suspended from the chamber.
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The Cabinet Office and the Met Police have had access to all information relevant to their investigations, including photographs. The Met has concluded their investigation and Sue Gray will publish her report in the coming days, at which point the Prime Minister will address Parliament in full.’
But Labour said the images left ‘no doubt now’ that Mr Johnson ‘lied’ to Parliament. Deputy leader Angela Rayner – who is under police investigation for her role in Sir Keir Starmer’s notorious Beergate incident in Durham – said: ‘While the British public were making huge sacrifices, Boris Johnson was breaking the law.’
No 10 yesterday tried to smooth tensions with Miss Gray (L) ahead of the publication of her report by insisting Mr Johnson (R) did not believe she was ‘playing politics’ with the issue, as his allies claimed over the weekend
Ms Gray issued an abbreviated version of her findings in January, after police announced they were investigating
Treasury minister Simon Clarke said in a round of interviews yesterday morning: ‘It is my understanding that the meeting was instigated by Ms Gray.’
Mr Johnson seemed unperturbed by the impending Partygate reckoning during his visit to Orpington on Monday
From a suitcase ‘full of booze’ to ‘BYOB’ bashes and a raucous garden gathering that ended in baby Wilf’s swing being broken – the details of the parties held at No10 while the rest of the nation was in lockdown have caused widespread fury
There are claims Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is facing particularly heavy criticism from Ms Gray, even though he was not personally fined over the scandal
Partygate in numbers
126: Fixed penalty noticed (FPNs) issued by Scotland Yard detectives over Partygate lawbreaking
83: Total number of politicians (including Boris Johnson and wife Carrie) and staff who shared those fines – 35 men and 48 women
50: Value of each fine (if done within two weeks – £100 thereafter)
1: Fines received and paid each by Mr Johnson, Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak
10: Minutes that Mr Johnson claims to have spent at the birthday bash in the Cabinet Room
460,000: Cost in pounds of Operation Hillman, Scotland Yard’s five month investigation into Partygate
115: Days which the investigation lasted between January 25 and May 19
8: Events which breached lockdown laws, resulting in the fines being handed out by police (from a total of 12 investigated)
16: Number of events on 12 different dates in 2020 and 2021 that Sue Gray’s report covers
510: Photographs and CCTV images of events inside Downing Street used by police in their investigation
204: Questionnaires handed to political figures including the PM about their actions
100: Employees invited to BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze) party in No10 garden in May 2020
Tory former Cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt, who has not ruled out a leadership challenge, said the Partygate scandal was proving ‘incredibly uncomfortable’ for Mr Johnson.
He insisted it would be ‘dangerous’ to comment on a photo without ‘the context of the report that it goes out with’.
But, speaking to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, he added: ‘An open democracy is doing its job and politicians are being held to account for their actions in excruciating detail and it is, of course, incredibly uncomfortable for the Prime Minister.’
Mr Cummings said the photos were ‘proof’ that Mr Johnson had lied to MPs about Partygate and claimed a ‘cover up’ was the reason Mr Johnson was not fined over the event but others were.
He also repeated his demand for ‘regime change’ in Number 10.
On a visit to a school yesterday morning, Mr Johnson insisted it will not be ‘much longer’ until Ms Gray’s report is published, after Scotland Yard wrapped up their investigation last week.
There are claims Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is facing particularly heavy criticism from Ms Gray, even though he was not personally fined over the scandal.
Mr Johnson said he would not give a ‘running commentary’ on the developments.
Asked if the report was still an independent one, the premier said: ‘Of course, but on the process you are just going to have to hold your horses a little bit longer.
‘I don’t believe it will be too much longer and then I will be able to say a bit more.’
The report is being finalised after the conclusion of the separate inquiry by the Metropolitan Police, which saw 83 people handed at least one fixed penalty notice each in relation to eight separate dates.
Mr Johnson received just one fine, for his 56th birthday gathering in June 2020 when indoor mixing was banned – the same event that saw both his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak given penalties.
Downing Street breathed a sigh of relief last week after police confirmed they would not be getting any further punishments.
No10 has tried to smooth tensions with Ms Gray ahead of the publication of her report by insisting Mr Johnson does not believe she is ‘playing politics’ with the issue, as his allies claimed over the weekend.
The PM’s spokesman also said the idea for a so-called secret meeting between Mr Johnson and Miss Gray this month had originated in No 10.
Which bashes have the police issued fines for?
– May 20, 2020: BYOB garden party
A leaked email from senior civil servant Martin Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street employees invited them to ‘bring your own booze’ for an evening gathering.
The PM admitted attending the gathering, but previously insisted he believed it was a work event which could ‘technically’ have been within the rules.
– June 18, 2020: Cabinet Office gathering
A gathering in the Cabinet Office on this date was being investigated by the police. The event was apparently held to mark the departure of a Number 10 private secretary.
– June 19, 2020: Birthday party for the PM
Downing Street admitted staff ‘gathered briefly’ in the Cabinet Room after a meeting. Reports suggested up to 30 people attended and the PM was presented with a cake.
The PM, his wife Carrie Johnson – said to have organised the bash – and Chancellor Rishi Sunak have all received fines.
Reports said Lulu Lytle, the interior designer behind lavish renovations of Mr and Mrs Johnson’s No 10 flat, briefly attended while undertaking work in Downing Street.
– November 13, 2020: Leaving party for senior aide and Abba Party
According to reports at the time, Mr Johnson gave a leaving speech for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and a close ally of Dominic Cummings.
The latter walked out the front door of Downing Street carrying a box of his belongings that night after losing a bitter power struggle with Mrs Johnson.
There were also claims a party with loud Abba music was held in the No11 flat that evening to celebrate the ousting of Mr Cain and Mr Cummings.
The premier is thought to have insisted he was interviewing one of those present for a potential job at the second event.
– December 17, 2020: Cabinet Office ‘Christmas party’
A gathering was held in the Cabinet Office on December 17.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is said to have attended the party in room 103 of the Cabinet Office.
It was apparently organised by a private secretary in Mr Case’s team, and included in digital calendars as: ‘Christmas party!’
The Cabinet Office confirmed a quiz took place, but a spokesman said: ‘The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office.’
– December 18, 2020: Christmas party at Downing Street
The claim that kicked off the rule-breaking allegations is that a party was held for Downing Street staff on December 18.
Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts, although the PM is not thought to have attended.
Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, quit after being filmed joking about it with fellow aides at a mock press conference – although it is not clear whether she attended.
– January 14, 2021: Number 10 leaving do for two staff members
The Sue Gray update previously revealed that an event in Downing Street for the departure of two No10 private secretaries was being looked at by the police.
– April 16, 2021: Drinks and dancing the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral
Advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events on the Friday night.
They were marking the departure of James Slack, Mr Johnson’s former director of communications, and one of the PM’s personal photographers.
Mr Slack, who left his Number 10 role to become deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper, said he was sorry for the ‘anger and hurt’ caused by his leaving do, while Downing Street apologised to the Queen.
Mr Johnson is not believed to have been in Downing Street that day and is said to have been at Chequers.
Accounts from witnesses said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music, adding that it had been told that around 30 people attended both events combined.