Advertisement

Cabinet Secretary says he did not tell Johnson all Covid guidance was followed

Officials in Boris Johnson’s Downing Street have denied telling him that no guidance was broken at mid-pandemic parties before he went on to insist all rules were followed.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case has told the inquiry into whether the former prime minister lied to MPs that he was not aware of any officials giving Mr Johnson that assurance.

Jack Doyle, who was Mr Johnson’s communications chief when the partygate story broke, said he did not tell Mr Johnson that all coronavirus guidance was followed.

Downing Street partygate
An event email invitation to No 10 staff and Lee Cain’s reply, which was released as part of the Commons Privileges Committee inquiry (House of Commons/PA)

And former principal private secretary Martin Reynolds said he warned against claiming that all rules had been followed before Mr Johnson issued a denial to Parliament.

The claims emerged in 110 pages of evidence published by the Privileges Committee ahead of the cross-party group of MPs’ televised questioning of Mr Johnson on Wednesday afternoon.

He will battle to avoid a suspension and a possible by-election that could follow if he is found to have committed a contempt of Parliament.

The former Tory leader has accepted he misled the House but denied doing so deliberately, saying he was acting “in good faith” on the advice of his senior team.

Mr Reynolds wrote to the committee saying he recalled asking Mr Johnson about a proposed line to say during prime minister’s questions “suggesting that all rules and guidance had been followed”.

“He did not welcome the interruption but told me that he had received reassurances that the comms event was within the rules,” the former adviser said.

“I accepted this but questioned whether it was realistic to argue that all guidance had been followed at all times, given the nature of the working environment in No 10. He agreed to delete the reference to guidance.”

But, on December 8 2021, Mr Johnson went on to tell the Commons “the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”.

Mr Case replied to the inquiry’s questionnaire asking whether he assured Mr Johnson that Covid rules were “followed at all times” by saying “No”.

He also said he did not advise that no parties were held in Downing Street, and was not aware of others telling the then-prime minister that all guidelines were followed.

Downing Street partygate
Written evidence of Jack Doyle, released as part of the Commons Privileges Committee inquiry into claims that Boris Johnson knowingly misled Parliament over parties at No 10 (House of Commons/PA)

Mr Doyle said he “believed no rules were broken” but, asked whether he told Mr Johnson “Covid guidance” was followed at all times, he replied “No”.

He highlighted the distinction between the rules and the guidelines, but added that No 10 “is an old building with limited space” and could not say they were complied with at all times.

In his written evidence, Mr Johnson argues there was “nothing reckless or unreasonable” about relying on the advice of officials, though he said “it is clear now, those assurances were wrong”.

Lee Cain, Mr Johnson’s former communications chief, said it would have been “highly unusual” for him not to have raised his concerns with the then-prime minister about a mid-lockdown garden party in No 10.

Mr Cain said he could not remember if he personally had a conversation with Mr Johnson about it, but added that he told senior aide Dominic Cummings about his concerns over the May 20 2020 gathering.

Downing Street partygate
Former prime minister Boris Johnson leaves his home in London ahead of a grilling by the Privileges Committee (Victoria Jones/PA)

Evidence published by the committee shows that Mr Cain initially raised his doubts about the event in response to an infamous email from Mr Reynolds inviting staff to the “socially distanced drinks” and asking them to “bring your own booze”.

Mr Cain said he told Mr Cummings about his concerns and he “agreed it should not take place and said he would raise the issue with Martin and the prime minister”.

To Mr Cain “it was clear, observing all who attended and the layout of the event, that this was purely a social function”.

Mr Reynolds accepted that his message had been “totally inappropriate and gave a misleading impression of the event”.

“The event was not a party in any normal sense of the word,” he said.

One No 10 official warned Mr Reynolds that the party was a “bad idea” and declined the invitation.

They told the inquiry: “I heard that there were so many people who were unhappy about the party that they were not going to go.”

Downing Street partygate
Boris Johnson has urged the Privileges Committee not to treat Dominic Cummings as a ‘credible witness’ because of his ‘animosity’ towards him (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Mr Cummings, whom Mr Johnson has urged the committee not to listen to because of his “animosity” towards him, told the committee it is “comical” that the prime minister would have thought the garden event was “work”.

“The PM certainly knew it was a drinks party because I told him, and when he walked outside he saw a drinks party,” the former aide said.

In his own written evidence, Mr Johnson sought to reject the committee’s belief that the evidence strongly suggested breaches of coronavirus rules would have been “obvious” to him as prime minister.

The Tory-majority committee led by Labour grandee Harriet Harman is considering at least four occasions when Mr Johnson may have misled MPs with his assurances.

The former prime minister accepted that his denials turned out not to be accurate but said he corrected the record at the “earliest opportunity”.

If Mr Johnson fails to convince the committee that he did not deliberately mislead the Commons, he could be found to have committed a contempt of Parliament.

A suspension of 10 days or more could result in a high-profile by-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat.

The full House of Commons would vote on any recommendations and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has agreed to give Tory MPs a free vote on their conscience over Mr Johnson’s fate.