Boris Johnson blasts lockdown-busting party allegations - 'Completely wrong!'

Boris Johnson speaks to the privileges committee

Boris Johnson is facing scrutiny over Partygate

Ben Chapman

By Ben Chapman

Published: 22/03/2023

- 17:09

The ex-prime minister was challenged over a series of widely circulated images from Sue Gray’s report

Boris Johnson has insisted that it is “completely wrong” to suggest he had been partying during lockdown, despite police fines being handed out for a senior aide’s leaving-do.

The ex-prime minister was challenged over a series of widely circulated images from Sue Gray’s report showing him giving a toast for departing communications chief Lee Cain.

Johnson was seen raising a glass while surrounded by colleagues and bottles of wine on November 13 2020, just days after ordering England’s second national lockdown.

Sir Bernard Jenkin asked Johnson whether his advice at that time to other organisations would have been that leaving-dos were acceptable.

Boris JohnsonBoris Johnson has rejected allegations that breaches would have been “obvious” to the then-prime ministerPA

In reference to the photograph, the former PM stated: “I understand that people looking at that photograph will think it looks like a social event.

“It was not a social event. If anyone thinks I was partying during lockdown, they are completely wrong. That was not a party.”

Questioned on whether he would have told other organisations, if asked at a Government pandemic press conference, that they could hold “unsocially distanced farewell gatherings”, Johnson said: “I would have said it is up to organisations, as the guidance says, to decide how they are going to implement the guidance amongst them.

“Where they can’t do social distancing perfectly, they can’t maintain two metres or one metre, they are entitled to have mitigations.

“And we did, indeed, have plenty of mitigations.”

At the time of the November 2020 event, indoor gatherings were banned except for in certain circumstances such as for “work purposes” and social distancing remained the rule in workplaces.

Johnson swore “hand on heart, I did not lie to the House” as he was questioned by MPs over whether he misled the Commons with his denials about partygate in a hearing that could determine his political fate.

Harriet Harman, chairwoman of the Privileges Committee undertaking the grilling, rejected the former prime minister’s demand that the inquiry only considers his discussion of coronavirus guidance.

The Labour grandee said the MPs on the cross-party committee will leave their “party interests at the door of the committee room and conduct our work in the interests of the House” as she dismissed claims of bias.

She insisted the committee is “not relying” on evidence provided by the Sue Gray report, as allies of Mr Johnson claim the inquiry is a “witch hunt” now that the civil servant is joining Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s office.

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