First image surfaces of PM at Partygate bash
Boris’s boozy Partygate pictures: First image surfaces of PM with drink in hand at bash that resulted in police fines – as No10 admits it DID ask Sue Gray for ‘secret’ meeting with Boris ahead of crunch report this week
- Top civil servant Sue Gray is finally expected to publish her report on the Partygate scandal in coming days
- The conclusions can be finally be released after Scotland Yard wrapped up its investigation and issued fines
- Boris Johnson braced for criticism after receiving a penalty over birthday event along with wife Carrie
The first pictures of Boris Johnson drinking at a lockdown-busting Downing Street event surfaced today as No10 braces for the Sue Gray report.
Images published by ITV News showed the PM with a glass in hand making a toast with around eight other people in shot.
It is believed to be a leaving do for director of communications Lee Cain on November 13, 2020, for which Scotland Yard recently issued fines – although not to Mr Johnson himself.
Downing Street has indicated it will not resist the inclusion in Ms Gray’s looming report of potentially dozens of images from events that broke the rules, in the hope they can help convince the public that there were not ‘raves’ going on.
Mr Johnson is seen in the new pictures in his suit and tie, with a ministerial red box on the table in front of him. There are also an assortment of wine bottles visible.
The photographs were heralded by former No10 chief Dominic Cummings – who dramatically walked out the same night after losing a bitter power struggle with Carrie Johnson. He said earlier today that he expected some to surface within 48 hours and be hugely damaging to the PM.
It comes with Downing Street embroiled in confusion over ‘secret’ discussions between Mr Johnson and the top civil servant about her investigation into lockdown breaches in Whitehall – due to be released within days.
There were a series of claims and counter-claims over the weekend about who wanted the ‘procedural’ meeting a few weeks ago, with Downing Street aides saying it was Ms Gray. A senior press officer was even dramatically removed from Ms Gray’s team yesterday after suggesting she had not requested it.
Treasury minister Simon Clarke said in interviews this morning that the mandarin ‘instigated’ the encounter.
But within hours the PM’s official spokesman contradicted him, conceding that officials initially suggested the talks before Ms Gray’s team sent an official diary invitation.
The Lib Dems have tried to turn up the heat on the premier by tabling a motion that could force the release of information about contacts between Mr Johnson and Ms Gray – who has a reputation for being fiercely independent.
On the evening of November 13 Mr Cummings pointedly exited the front door of Downing Street carrying a box of his belongings.
There were also claims a party with loud Abba music was held in the No11 flat that evening to celebrate the ousting of Mr Cain and Mr Cummings. However, premier is thought to have insisted he was interviewing one of those present for a potential job at the second event.
In December last year, Mr Johnson was asked in the Commons whether there had been a party in Downing Street on November 13, 2020. He replied: ‘No, but I am sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.’
Images published by ITV News showed the PM with a glass in hand making a toast with around eight other people in shot
Boris Johnson (pictured right today) is bracing for Sue Gray (left) to deliver damning conclusions about lockdown breaches in Whitehall after Scotland Yard wrapped up their investigation last week
On the evening of November 13 2020, Dominic Cummings pointedly exited the front door of Downing Street carrying a box of his belongings
There are claims Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is facing particularly heavy criticism from Ms Gray, even though he was not personally fined over the scandal
A senior Civil Service press officer responsible for handling the publication of Sue Gray’s report has been dramatically dropped from the role.
The official, who has worked on the inquiry since it was taken over by Ms Gray in December last year, was expected to oversee the media handling of the report’s inquiry in the coming days.
But he has confirmed he is ‘no longer working on the Sue Gray inquiry’, referring questions to the Cabinet Office.
Mystery surrounds the reasons for his removal yesterday.
But the move follows the decision by Ms Gray’s team on Saturday to publicly challenge No 10’s insistence that a meeting between her and Boris Johnson this month was held at her request.
It also comes after a number of lurid briefings about her report in the weekend newspapers, including a claim in The Sunday Times that Miss Gray was ‘surprised’ Mr Johnson received only one fine.
The Cabinet Office has declined to comment on the reasons for the removal of the senior press officer on Miss Gray’s team.
He is believed to have returned to other duties in government.
On a visit to a school this morning, Mr Johnson insisted it will not be ‘much longer’ until Ms Gray’s report is published, after Scotland Yard wrapped up their investigation last week.
There are claims Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is facing particularly heavy criticism from Ms Gray, even though he was not personally fined over the scandal.
Mr Johnson said he would not give a ‘running commentary’ on the developments.
Asked if the report was still an independent one, the premier said: ‘Of course, but on the process you are just going to have to hold your horses a little bit longer.
‘I don’t believe it will be too much longer and then I will be able to say a bit more.’
The report is being finalised after the conclusion of the separate inquiry by the Metropolitan Police, which saw 83 people handed at least one fixed penalty notice each in relation to eight separate dates.
Mr Johnson received just one fine, for his 56th birthday gathering in June 2020 when indoor mixing was banned – the same event that saw both his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak given penalties.
Downing Street breathed a sigh of relief last week after police confirmed they would not be getting any further punishments.
However, there have been reports Mr Case will come in for ‘stinging criticism’ in the Gray report.
‘As the head of the civil service, the ultimate responsibility was his,’ one source told the Telegraph.
Meanwhile, there is a row about a meeting between Mr Johnson and Ms Gray, which took place several weeks ago.
The PM’s official spokesman tried to clear up the situation this morning by saying No10 officials initially made the request.
Asked whether officials told Ms Gray’s team that Mr Johnson would like to meet her, the spokesman told reporters: ‘No, this was not at the request of the Prime Minister.
‘It wasn’t framed in that way. It was suggested it may be helpful to have that meeting.
‘Obviously Sue Gray is independent, it is up to her whether she proceeds with any meeting with regards to her investigation.’
Pushed on why No 10 officials had suggested a meeting, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘There were reports, public reports, that the (Metropolitan Police’s) Hillman investigation might be coming to a conclusion, so it was discussed that it might be useful to give an overview of what Sue Gray and her team were planning in regards to publication and timings – the publication following the conclusion of the report.
Partygate in numbers
126: Fixed penalty noticed (FPNs) issued by Scotland Yard detectives over Partygate lawbreaking
83: Total number of politicians (including Boris Johnson and wife Carrie) and staff who shared those fines – 35 men and 48 women
50: Value of each fine (if done within two weeks – £100 thereafter)
1: Fines received and paid each by Mr Johnson, Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak
10: Minutes that Mr Johnson claims to have spent at the birthday bash in the Cabinet Room
460,000: Cost in pounds of Operation Hillman, Scotland Yard’s five month investigation into Partygate
115: Days which the investigation lasted between January 25 and May 19
8: Events which breached lockdown laws, resulting in the fines being handed out by police (from a total of 12 investigated)
16: Number of events on 12 different dates in 2020 and 2021 that Sue Gray’s report covers
510: Photographs and CCTV images of events inside Downing Street used by police in their investigation
204: Questionnaires handed to political figures including the PM about their actions
100: Employees invited to BYOB (Bring Your Own Booze) party in No10 garden in May 2020
‘I think those discussions had taken place at official level already.’
The spokesman added: ‘As you would expect for reports like this, it is understandable that there would be a need to share information on things like timings and publication process because obviously there is a process for No 10 and the Prime Minister that would flow off the back of Sue Gray completing her report.
‘So that then helps with our planning purposes and things like that.’
The spokesman said the meeting was minuted, but insisted the record would not be released.#
‘I believe it was minuted in the usual way,’ they said.
Pressed on whether the information would be made public, he replied: ‘No, it was a private meeting. We wouldn’t publish details of a private meeting.’
Downing Street also said it would not be publishing a ‘cast list’ of who joined the meeting from both sides.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said reports of the meeting was a ‘new low’ for the Government.
During a tour of a large Sainsbury’s store in Nine Elms, south London, on Monday, Sir Keir urged for Ms Gray’s full report into partygate to be published as soon as possible.
He told journalists: ‘I always had a concern that as we got to the publication of the Sue Gray report, there will be attempts by the Government to undermine her and undermine the report.
‘That’s what we’ve seen going on over the weekend in recent days, a new low for the Government.
‘What we do know is there was industrial-scale law-breaking in Downing Street – over 120 fines. So what we need now is the full report, all of the evidence.
‘It’s the least the public is entitled to from this Government.’
But Treasury minister Simon Clarke said in a round of interviews this morning: ‘It is my understanding that the meeting was instigated by Ms Gray.’
He continued: ‘There are lots of practical questions here that need to be bottomed out in terms of, for example, who can be named in this report and the extent to which photographic evidence can be included. It is important that those practical dimensions are resolved.’
He added: ‘I think the one thing I would say about Sue Gray, and I have never met her but I have heard a great deal about her, is that by repute she is one of the most fiercely independent and professional civil servants in the whole of Government and brings a vast range of experience to bear, so I don’t think there is any politics.’
He said: ‘In no way do I think there is anything other than a practical dimension to the question of when it comes out, now that the police have concluded their investigation.’
Mr Johnson seemed unperturbed by the impending Partygate reckoning during his visit to Orpington today
The PM joked with children at St Mary Cray Primary Academy as he waits for the conclusions of the Gray inquiry
Mr Johnson chatted happily with pupils on his visit to the schools in south-east London this morning
Treasury minister Simon Clarke said in a round of interviews this morning: ‘It is my understanding that the meeting was instigated by Ms Gray.’
From a suitcase ‘full of booze’ to ‘BYOB’ bashes and a raucous garden gathering that ended in baby Wilf’s swing being broken – the details of the parties held at No10 while the rest of the nation was in lockdown have caused widespread fury
How could Boris Johnson be ousted by Tory MPs?
What is the mechanism for removing the Tory leader?
Tory Party rules allow the MPs to force a vote of no confidence in their leader.
How is that triggered?
A vote is in the hands of the chairman of the Tory Party’s backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.
A vote of no confidence must be held if 15 per cent of Tory MPs write to the chairman. Currently that threshold is 54 MPs.
Letters are confidential unless the MP sending it makes it public. This means only Sir Graham knows how many letters there are.
What happens when the threshold is reached?
A vote is held, with the leader technically only needing to win support from a simple majority of MPs
But in reality, a solid victory is essential for them to stay in post.
What happens if the leader loses?
The leader is sacked if they do not win a majority of votes from MPs, and a leadership contest begins in which they cannot stand.
However, they typically stay on as Prime Minister until a replacement is elected.
Mr Clarke also confirmed that there is consideration of whether photos should be included in the report.
‘It’s obviously a very complicated one in terms of what can or cannot be said about, for example, naming, for example, junior civil servants, inclusion of questions, like photos, these are things which need to be bottomed out as a technical issue before publication, and rightly so because there are very considerable legal and personal sensitivities to that information potentially being disclosed,’ he said.
‘And it’s that which, as I understand it lies at the heart of the remaining discussions before publication.’
In a blog update, Mr Cummings said: ‘I expect photos of the PM will emerge very quickly, within the next 24-48 hours.
‘Any reasonable person looking at some of these photos will only be able to conclude that the PM obviously lied to the Commons, and possibly to the cops, and there is no reasonable story for how others were fined for event X but not him.’
Ms Gray’s report into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street comes after the Metropolitan Police concluded its £460,000 investigation after issuing 126 fines to 83 people.
No 10 hopes that Ms Gray’s report will mark the end of the saga, which has dominated headlines despite the Ukraine and cost-of-living crises and caused huge political damage to the Tories.
Tensions are also running high within No 10 over the fines, in particular the ‘gender divide’.
It is understood that about three-quarters of those receiving penalties were ‘young, female members of staff’.
Meanwhile, Tory MP Laura Farris suggested she may resign as a ministerial aide at the Foreign Office in order to continue in her role on the Commons Privileges Committee, which is set to investigate whether the PM intentionally misled Parliament over partygate.
Ms Farris, who is currently both a parliamentary private secretary (PPS) and a member of the committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour programme the two roles were ‘incompatible’ in the circumstances, and ‘that has to be resolved this week’.
‘One or other will go. If I am to remain on the committee, I will resign as a PPS so that there isn’t that conflict,’ she said.
Asked which option she was leaning towards, she said she thought it would be ‘the right thing to do’ to stay on the committee.
The committee’s chairman, Labour MP Chris Bryant, previously recused himself from the parliamentary investigation, having made his views on Mr Johnson’s conduct plain in the media.
Which bashes have the police issued fines for?
– May 20, 2020: BYOB garden party
A leaked email from senior civil servant Martin Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street employees invited them to ‘bring your own booze’ for an evening gathering.
The PM admitted attending the gathering, but previously insisted he believed it was a work event which could ‘technically’ have been within the rules.
– June 18, 2020: Cabinet Office gathering
A gathering in the Cabinet Office on this date was being investigated by the police. The event was apparently held to mark the departure of a Number 10 private secretary.
– June 19, 2020: Birthday party for the PM
Downing Street admitted staff ‘gathered briefly’ in the Cabinet Room after a meeting. Reports suggested up to 30 people attended and the PM was presented with a cake.
The PM, his wife Carrie Johnson – said to have organised the bash – and Chancellor Rishi Sunak have all received fines.
Reports said Lulu Lytle, the interior designer behind lavish renovations of Mr and Mrs Johnson’s No 10 flat, briefly attended while undertaking work in Downing Street.
– November 13, 2020: Leaving party for senior aide and Abba Party
According to reports at the time, Mr Johnson gave a leaving speech for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and a close ally of Dominic Cummings.
The latter walked out the front door of Downing Street carrying a box of his belongings that night after losing a bitter power struggle with Mrs Johnson.
There were also claims a party with loud Abba music was held in the No11 flat that evening to celebrate the ousting of Mr Cain and Mr Cummings.
The premier is thought to have insisted he was interviewing one of those present for a potential job at the second event.
– December 17, 2020: Cabinet Office ‘Christmas party’
A gathering was held in the Cabinet Office on December 17.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is said to have attended the party in room 103 of the Cabinet Office.
It was apparently organised by a private secretary in Mr Case’s team, and included in digital calendars as: ‘Christmas party!’
The Cabinet Office confirmed a quiz took place, but a spokesman said: ‘The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office.’
– December 18, 2020: Christmas party at Downing Street
The claim that kicked off the rule-breaking allegations is that a party was held for Downing Street staff on December 18.
Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts, although the PM is not thought to have attended.
Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, quit after being filmed joking about it with fellow aides at a mock press conference – although it is not clear whether she attended.
– January 14, 2021: Number 10 leaving do for two staff members
The Sue Gray update previously revealed that an event in Downing Street for the departure of two No10 private secretaries was being looked at by the police.
– April 16, 2021: Drinks and dancing the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral
Advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events on the Friday night.
They were marking the departure of James Slack, Mr Johnson’s former director of communications, and one of the PM’s personal photographers.
Mr Slack, who left his Number 10 role to become deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper, said he was sorry for the ‘anger and hurt’ caused by his leaving do, while Downing Street apologised to the Queen.
Mr Johnson is not believed to have been in Downing Street that day and is said to have been at Chequers.
Accounts from witnesses said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music, adding that it had been told that around 30 people attended both events combined.
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