Partygate: how long can Boris Johnson hide behind Sue Gray’s investigation?

Sienna Rodgers
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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Every one of us has a story of sacrifice from the early days of the pandemic. It may be having to go on a freezing cold walk in order to see one friend, while worrying about bringing a hot drink lest it be classed as a picnic by the police. Or it may be children not allowed to say goodbye to their dying mother in a hospice, as the email read out on Radio 4 this morning described. There are countless anecdotes like these, from the mundane to the utterly heart-breaking. And yet, when asked about the latest – and most damning – evidence of lockdown rules being broken in Downing Street, Boris Johnson looks genuinely amused. Did you and your wife attend the garden party in May 2020? “All that will be subject to a proper investigation,” the Prime Minister replied yesterday, smirking.

An email from Johnson’s own principal private secretary, leaked to ITV News, has confirmed that over 100 staffers were invited to drinks in May 2020. At the time, the rest of us were only allowed to meet one person outside of our household in an outdoor, public place, staying two metres apart – as government minister Oliver Dowden told us at a Covid press conference that very same day. Michael Fabricant has tried to defend the indefensible by saying they were key workers, they worked closely indoors all day, they worked hard and the risk outdoors was minimal. But we didn’t know how low the risk outdoors was then. And a group of equally diligent supermarket workers would not have been able to party in the garden. The email shows this was a social gathering organised explicitly for the purpose of making “the most of the lovely weather” with attendees encouraged to “bring your own booze!”.

So far, the Prime Minister is hiding behind Sue Gray’s probe into the (extraordinary number of) Downing Street parties that took place during multiple lockdowns. Much like the WhatsApps that he forgot about sending until they were found by the Electoral Commission, Johnson now needs an official investigation to say whether he attended a rule-breaking bash. As Angela Rayner said this morning: “Boris Johnson’s deflections and distractions are no longer tenable.” Notably, the Prime Minister is not denying that he was there. How will he match up this reality with his claim in December that he was “sickened” and “furious” by the parties scandal? The current line cannot be held, and it is difficult to see how the next one will be any less ridiculous.

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