Boris Johnson’s account of the Downing Street party would be “laughed out of court”, according to a defence lawyer.
Raj Chada said he could not see how the Prime Minister’s defence of his actions had “any legal basis”, while another lawyer dismissed Mr Johnson’s comments as “face saving” and “proper nonsense”.
On Wednesday, Mr Johnson, battling to save his premiership, apologised for attending a “bring your own booze” gathering in the garden of Number 10 during England’s first lockdown.
While acknowledging the public’s “rage” over the incident, he insisted he thought the event could have technically been within the rules in place at the time, May 20 2020.
It is proper nonsense and doesn't make any sense at all given what the government were telling everyone else to do at the time
Adam Wagner, human rights lawyer
Mr Chada, the head of the criminal defence department at Hodge Jones and Allen, told the PA news agency: “If any client had tried to use this, it would have been laughed out of court. The cross examination would have been brutal: do civil servants/politicians normally ‘bring a bottle’ to work events?
“I cannot see that his defence has any legal basis as you were meant to be working from home if you could.”
Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister who has spent the pandemic interpreting complex coronavirus laws and explaining them to the public on social media, said the Prime Minister’s statement was “obviously lawyered” and “very much about his personal liability.”
In a series of posts on Twitter, he said: “The Johnson apology was carefully worded and obviously lawyered. He said that he attended because he “believed implicitly that this was a work event”, that “with hindsight” he should have sent everyone back inside, and “technically” it could be said to fall within the guidance.
“The apology – when read carefully – was to the millions of people who “wouldn’t see it in that way”, but because he also said technically it could be said to fall within the guidance he is implicitly saying the millions of people are wrong in their interpretation.
“This was only what *he* thought the event was … So defence is a personal one only and leaves open the possibility the event was something else without him realising.
“This is very much about his personal liability – he is implicitly denying he knew what the event was, had seen the email or had anything to do with it. Because here’s the key point: on the wording of email (“bring your own booze”) this couldn’t technically have been a work event.”
While Mr Wagner suggested the Prime Minister may even say such an event would be considered “reasonably necessary for work” to thank staff for their hard work during the pandemic, he doubted whether this would “hold weight” given the Government guidance in place at the time discouraging workplace gatherings.
He added: “The ultimate point is that at the time if anyone had asked the Prime Minister or health minister whether it was lawful to have a social work gathering outdoors for 100 with alcohol and food they would have answered with a very hard “no”. This is … face saving.
“It is proper nonsense and doesn’t make any sense at all given what the government were telling everyone else to do at the time.”