Angela Rayner has accused Liz Truss of “aiding and abetting” Boris Johnson’s attempts to “dodge scrutiny” after the Tory leadership candidate said she would shut down an investigation into whether the Prime Minister lied to parliament.
Commenting after Truss told Conservative members on Tuesday that she would vote to end an inquiry by MPs on the standards committee into Johnson, the deputy Labour leader argued that the leadership hopeful is “continuing to prop up the disgraced Prime Minister even after he has been forced from office”.
“Boris Johnson created a rotten culture at the heart of Downing Street and toxified the Tory Party from top to bottom. Liz Truss enabled him and is showing she would continue to follow his lead if she is installed into No 10,” she said.
“Liz Truss must now confirm in no uncertain terms that she will not undermine the privileges committee and she will appoint an ethics chief on day one of her leadership. While the Tories offer more of the same, only Labour will stop the rot and bring the change our country needs.”
Truss said she would vote to end the investigation launched after the Prime Minister was fined for breaching Covid rules during the pandemic but downplayed the likelihood of the probe being stopped. She told attendees at a Conservative Party leadership hustings: “Yes – but there isn’t a vote and it’s going ahead.”
Johnson told parliament that all “the guidance was followed” when first questioned about allegations of rulebreaking. The ministerial code outlines that ministers who knowingly misled parliament “will be expected to offer their resignation”.
After a video was released showing No 10 staff laughing about a party on December 18th 2020, the Prime Minister said he had been “repeatedly assured” that “there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.
A Labour motion proposing the investigation into the allegations that the Prime Minister misled parliament over the partygate scandal was passed unopposed by MPs in April. The inquiry is being undertaken by the Commons privileges committee.
A Metropolitan Police investigation into partygate concluded in May. The Met revealed that it had issued a total of 126 fines to 83 people, including to Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson and the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Sue Gray published her long-awaited report later the same month, six months after allegations of rule breaking gatherings first emerged, concluding that “the senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility”.
The report by the senior civil servant summarised an investigation into 16 events in 2020 and 2021, including a “socially distanced drinks” in the No 10 garden – about which some staff “expressed concern” as to whether the event was “appropriate”.
The controversial garden party was held in May 2020, during the first lockdown of the pandemic. Martin Reynolds, Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary, emailed staff inviting them to the event and advising them to “bring your own booze”.
The report found that the then head of communications for Johnson, Lee Cain, had warned that the party would pose a “comms risk”. A special adviser also told Reynolds that it would be “helpful” if people avoided being seen “walking around with bottles of wine” as it was taking place after a press conference.
After the event, Reynolds referenced the event to a special adviser in a Whatsapp message, in which he said: “Best of luck – a complete non story but better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with).”
Labour MP Catherine West specifically asked Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions in December 2021 whether a party had taken place in Downing Street on November 13th 2020, the date of Cain’s leaving party.
Responding to West, the Prime Minister said: “No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed, and the rules were followed at all times.”