Boris Johnson’s prime ministerial office has been jeopardized even more with the release of photos showing him drinking wine with Downing Street staff in the depths of England’s second Covid lockdown in 2020.
The images obtained by ITV News as Westminster awaits the forthcoming release of Sue Gray’s report on the Partygate scandal cast doubt on the Prime Minister’s claim to the House of Commons that there was no party and no rules at No 10 had been broken.
And they raise questions about why the Metropolitan Police didn’t fine the PM for his attendance at former communications director Lee Cain’s departure party on November 13, 2020, when others were fined for attending.
They emerged amid the growing chaos and tensions at the heart of government over the Partygate scandal, with insiders describing the atmosphere at No. 10 and the Cabinet Office as “daggers drawn”.
A Tory MP told The Independent The images made it clear that Mr Johnson had lied to Parliament, making further letters of no confidence in his leadership likely in the coming days.
Another senior Conservative said her performance “shifted gears” as the Partygate scandal intensified.
Sir Roger Gale, the first Tory MP to vote no confidence in the Prime Minister, described the images – which appear to show the Prime Minister toasting Cain with a plastic cup of champagne in a room littered with alcohol bottles – as “damning”.
And the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Douglas Ross, said: “These images will rightly infuriate people across the country very much.” The Prime Minister must explain why he thinks this behavior is acceptable. For most, these images seem unjustifiable and wrong.”
The toxic sentiment was fueled by expectations that Ms Gray’s report will deliver a scathing judgment on leadership in No 10 and the Cabinet Office and a culture of drinking within the government.
Insiders told The Independent that tensions had reached “daggers drawn” on Monday amid the aftermath of a furious row between No 10 and the gray team over a meeting between the senior official and Mr Johnson.
Downing Street denied the Prime Minister used the meeting earlier this month to put pressure on Ms Gray to dampen her outcome.
But the spokesman admitted it was instigated by No 10 – just hours after Treasury Secretary Simon Clarke insisted in a TV interview that the request for a meeting came from Ms Gray.
A senior Whitehall official tasked with briefing the media on behalf of the inquiry was reassigned to other duties after the Gray team contradicted No 10’s version of events over the weekend.
And Mr Johnson’s official spokesman was forced to deny the Prime Minister felt Gray was “playing politics” with her inquiry after reports said his allies informed against her.
Mr Johnson’s former top aide Dominic Cummings claimed that relations between the warring factions within No 10 were collapsing, with longer-serving staff present at the time of the parties in 2020 and 2021 fearing they were being stalked by others, who arrived more recently would be made into scapegoats.
“Some of those in key positions have now or recently tried to blame other officials,” Mr Cummings said.
“These officials think some of those in key positions have now behaved appallingly and are preparing to take action.”
Ms Gray’s report is expected to identify up to 30 senior officials for criticism and detail the number of people crammed into the Downing Street and Cabinet Office rooms at the adjacent 70 Whitehall complex.
The head of civil service, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, and his predecessor, Mark Sedwill, are expected to be under fire.
Speaking of the atmosphere in the Cabinet Office, an official said The Independent: “It’s another gloomy one. Daggers are drawn.
“Some officials think Case should go, that he should have refused to allow an internal investigation in the first place. Others are already angry at the idea that he might take the fall for the neighbors.”
However, another officer with knowledge of Ms Gray’s report claimed she would also take note of the broader roles of the Chief Operating Officers at Nos 10 and 70 Whitehall, adding: “It is about who controls the movements and actions of the Staff should have noticed the entire time.”
At least seven other people are seen with Mr Johnson in the photos, although their facial features have been pixelated to avoid identification.
None are sticking to the two-metre social distancing rules required when meeting with people outside the home during lockdown.
On a chair is an official red box where ministers’ papers were kept, and on the table next to the Prime Minister are two bottles of champagne or cava, four bottles of wine and half a bottle of gin. Also visible are party cups, cookies, chips and other food items.
The event came just eight days after England’s national lockdown, which barred gatherings with people outside of your household except for essential work purposes. And it comes just weeks after Mr Johnson reportedly said he would rather “keep the bodies piled high” than impose new restrictions.
A spokeswoman for the Gray investigation did not want to know if she had seen the photos before finalizing her report.
However, a spokesman for No. 10 said: “The Met Cabinet office and police had access to all information relevant to their investigation, including photographs. The Met has completed its investigation and Sue Gray will publish her report in the coming days, after which the Prime Minister will address Parliament in full.”
Asked on December 1, 2021 in the House of Commons to confirm whether there had been a party on November 13 of the previous year, Mr Johnson replied: “No, but I’m sure whatever happened follows the guidelines and the rules were followed at all times.”
A week later, on December 8, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons: “Ever since these allegations surfaced I have been reassured repeatedly that there was no party and no Covid rules were being broken.” And at a press conference at the Downing Street later that day, he said that “all the evidence I can see is that the people in that building played by the rules.”
A Conservative MP who has already tabled a no-confidence letter said so The Independent: “These photos show that Boris misled Parliament. It’s hard to argue that this was necessary for work purposes when seven bottles of liquor are open.
“It definitely increases the likelihood that MPs who have told their constituents they are waiting for the Sue Gray report will now mail their letters.”
The MP said a number of Tories withdrew letters they had sent to the chairman of the 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady, after last week’s conclusion of the Partygate police inquiry appeared to “let the Prime Minister off the hook “.
But he added: “There is still a lot of unhappiness out there and these photos will bring it back to the surface. People are really starting to worry about the impact of the election, especially with two by-elections coming up.”
Prominent backbencher Steve Baker, who previously said “the gig is over” for Mr Johnson, declined to comment on the photos but tweeted a lockdown poster showing a critically ill Covid patient with the words: “Look Look her in the eye and tell her you never break the rules.”
Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said there was now “no doubt” that the Prime Minister knew lockdown rules had been breached in No 10 and that he lied about it in Parliament.
“While the British public was making enormous sacrifices, Boris Johnson broke the law,” Ms Rayner said.
“Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he was unaware of any violations of the law – there is now no doubt he lied.”
The Liberal Democrats have called on the Independent Bureau on Police Conduct to open an investigation into the Met’s Operation Hillman decision not to issue a criminal warrant to Mr Johnson in connection with the Nov. 13 incident.
The party’s deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “Certainly if anyone else had been pictured at a party like this during lockdown it would have been sufficient evidence for a fine.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/partygate-boris-johnson-sue-gray-photo-b2085412.html Photos appear to show Boris Johnson toasting a colleague during a lockdown party