No 10 drinks party was to ‘welcome back’ Boris Johnson after Covid recovery, Tory MP claims

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 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

A Conservative MP has claimed a No 10 drinks party held during lockdown restrictions was organised to “welcome back” Boris Johnson after his recovery from Covid.

The North Dorset backbencher Simon Hoare added that he understood the event was also a “way of saying thank you” to cabinet minister Dominic Raab for “holding the fort” during the prime minister’s absence.

However, a spokesperson for Mr Raab said it was “categorically untrue” and that did not attend the event and “wasn’t invited”.

It comes after the prime minister issued an apology in the Commons and admitted attending the event on 20 May, 2020 in the Downing Street rose garden when over 100 Downing Street staff were invited to “bring your own booze”.

Facing calls to resign, Mr Johnson acknowledged the “rage” of the public and MPs, but also attempted to claim that he thought it was a “work event” — a suggestion that was ridiculed by the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Speaking on Sky News, the Tory MP Mr Hoare said “I don’t know” when asked if Mr Johnson can survive the latest revelations about rule breaking and make it to the next general election amid growing Conservative anger.

However, he added: “As I understand it, and this is a third-hand understanding, this was a party organised to say, in the first instance, welcome back prime minister.

“He had been in hospital, I think I’ve got the timeline right, and recuperating at Chequers. It was also a way of saying thank you to Dominic Raab for holding the fort”.

He added: “So whether the prime minister knew it was taking place or whether everybody just humped out of the shrubbery and said ‘Surprise’, I don’t know”.

Pressed on the comments from Mr Hoare, the prime minister’s press secretary sidestepped questions over whether the gathering was arranged as a “welcome back” for the prime minister, who was admitted to hospital on 6 April, 2020 after contracting Covid.

He did not return to Downing Street until 27 April after spending time recuperating at his Chequers residence.

Referring to the investigation by Sue Gray, the senior civil servant tasked with probing alleged rule breaking in government buildings, the press secretary added: “It’s a matter for the independent review”.

But Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, seized on the comments from Mr Hoare, saying if Mr Raab “also attended this party he needs to come clean”.

“The public has a right to know if any other senior Tories were at this party while the rest of the country was locked down,” she insisted.

“Rather than running away hundreds of miles, the Chancellor, who lives next door, should finally answer questions of how he could have been unaware of boozey parties immediately outside his own office. Time for them all to come clean.”

However, a spokesperson for Mr Raab said: “It’s categorically untrue — he wasn’t invited and didn’t attend”.

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