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How has Boris Johnson responded to claims of Covid rule-busting parties?

The prime minister remains in hot water amid allegations surrounding a string of parties that allegedly took place in Downing Street during England’s first lockdown in May 2020.

Having initially said in December he was “sickened” at the prospect of staff ignoring social restrictions, Mr Johnson has been forced to admit to the House of Commons that he himself attended at least one such event as more and more stories continue to play out in the newspapers about further illicit gatherings that reputedly took place behind closed doors while the British public obeyed tough restrictions.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray is currently carrying out an inquiry into the affair and could turn in her report before the end of the week.

Here is what the PM has said in response to the events alleged to have taken place.

-15 May 2020: Garden party at Downing Street (cheese and wine) 

In December 2021, a photo emerged showing Boris and Carrie Johnson, former chief adviser Dominic Cummings and Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, sitting around a table in the No 10 garden during the first national lockdown.

Mr Johnson said in an interview on 20 December 2021: “Those were meetings of people at work. This is where I live and it’s where I work. Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.”

– 20 May 2020: Garden party at Downing Street (BYOB)

ITV reported a leaked email from Mr Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street employees asking them to “bring your own booze” for an evening gathering.

Multiple reports have suggested that the prime minister attended the event with his wife.

Asked if he and his wife attended a Downing Street party that was organised byMr Reynolds on 20 May 2020, Mr Johnson said on 10 January 2022: “All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray.”

At Prime Minister’s Questions two days later, he confirmed that he had attended the garden gathering for around 25 minutes with the intention of thanking his staff for their efforts during the pandemic while claiming, somewhat improbably: “I believed implicitly that it was a work event.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds outside Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

(PA Archive)

-13 November 2020: Leaving party for senior aide and Johnsons’ flat party

According to reports at the time, Mr Johnson gave a leaving speech for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and close ally of Mr Cummings.

There are also allegations that the prime minister’s then-fiancee hosted parties in their flat, with one such event said to have taken place on 13 November 2020, the night Mr Cummings departed No 10.

Mr Johnson was asked in the House of Commons on 8 December 2021: “Will the prime minister tell the House whether there was a party in Downing Street on 13 November?”

He replied: “No, but I’m sure that whatever happened the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.”

– 15 December 2020: Downing Street quiz

The Sunday Mirror published an image in December 2021 showing the prime minister flanked by colleagues, one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat, in No 10 the previous year.

Downing Street admitted Mr Johnson “briefly” attended the quiz after photographic evidence emerged, but insisted it was a virtual event.

In an interview on 13 December 2021, the PM said: “I can tell you that I certainly broke no rules – the whole thing will be looked into by the cabinet secretary, and what I’m focused on, frankly, is the vaccine rollout.”

Mr Johnson apologised over the impression given ‘that staff in Downing Street take this less than seriously’ (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

(PA Wire)

– 18 December 2020: Christmas party at Downing Street

According to reports which first emerged at the end of November 2021, officials and advisers made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts – although the prime minister is not thought to have attended.

Mr Johnson said in an interview on 7 December 2021: “I have satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.”

He said in the House of Commons on 8 December 2021: “I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken. That is what I have been repeatedly assured.

“But I have asked the cabinet secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible. It goes without saying that if those rules were broken, there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.”

The PM also said in the Commons on 8 December 2021: “I apologise for the impression that has been given that staff in Downing Street take this less than seriously. I am sickened myself and furious about that, but I repeat what I have said to him: I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken.”


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