Rayner: Johnson’s position “untenable” if he misled parliament over parties

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Angela Rayner has declared that Boris Johnson’s position is “untenable” if the Prime Minister has misled parliament over his knowledge of parties held in Downing Street in contravention of Covid rules at the height of the pandemic.

In an interview with BBC Breakfast this morning, the deputy Labour leader told viewers that “people who lost loved ones in that period are devastated by this news that No 10 was partying while their loved ones died alone”.

Her comments followed the leak of an email on Monday, which showed the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds inviting staff to “some socially distanced drinks” in May 2020 and telling them to “bring your own booze”.

Rayner called on Johnson to say whether he was at the party. He refused to confirm whether he was at the gathering on Tuesday, instead insisting that the incident would be the subject of an official inquiry by a senior civil servant.

“He could clear this up very quickly and he’s refused to do so. He has undermined the British public so far by refusing to tell the British public what they deserve to hear, and that’s whether or not he broke the lockdown rules and whether he was at the party or not,” she said this morning.

“He said to parliament and to the country before Christmas when he was apologising that he didn’t know about the parties, and now we know he was at at least one of those parties.

“So, he has clearly lied, he has broken the ministerial code, he has broken the law, he’s misled parliament – any Prime Minister in the past would resign for just one of those offences.”

According to ITV News, to whom the email was leaked earlier this week, up to 40 staff gathered in the garden that evening in May 2020, eating food and drinking at the party first alleged in a blog by former adviser Dominic Cummings last week.

Eyewitnesses say attendees included Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson. Two sources told The Times that the Prime Minister attended the Covid rule-breaking party, with one saying he was “wandering round gladhanding people”.

Other related allegations have emerged since: the BBC reported on Tuesday that senior staff had to intervene during the first half of 2021 to prevent other events, such as leaving parties, going ahead; and sources told The Independent that No 10 workers were told that it would be a “good idea” to “clean up” their phones by removing any information that could suggest that lockdown parties took place.

The email leak follows weeks in which the Prime Minister has been accused of dishonesty after The Mirror broke the story last month that more than one party took place in Downing Street in December 2020 in breach of Covid rules.

The Prime Minister announced in December that the Cabinet Office, led by Simon Case, would be investigating. But Case later recused himself from the inquiry after it emerged that there had been an office Christmas quiz on December 17th.

The inquiry is now being carried out by senior civil servant Sue Gray. Labour has welcomed Gray’s inquiry but called on Johnson to confirm whether he was in attendance now, rather than waiting for the investigation to conclude.

Johnson is reportedly under pressure from Tory colleagues. One told the BBC: “We should get rid of him…. We should own the situation. We are the Tory party. We are not delivering good governance.” Another MP said it is “Goodnight Vienna“.

The Prime Minister is due before parliament at midday for Prime Minister’s Questions, in which he will face questions from Keir Starmer and other MPs. Reports are also circulating that Johnson will make a statement on ‘partygate’ beforehand.

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