Working…with wine…and lies

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Molly Pollock has some questions for the partying PM

Today the prime Minister apologised for the way the Downing Street ‘party’ looked to the public, but of course it wasn’t a party, it was a work event – Johnson said he believed implicitly that this was a work event. On previous occasions in the House of Commons and in interviews he had repeatedly stated that he had been assured there were no parties, and that no covid rules had been broken.

If this was the case and the gathering on 20th May 2020 was indeed a work event with 30-40 in attendance, some questions still need answers:

  1. PM Why was the invitation sent out for the event by his Principal Private Secretary, stating the gathering was to take advantage of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks? Sounds very like a social event. To quibble over calling it a party is to indulge in silly semantics.
  2. Why if it was a work event were those invited asked to bring along booze?
  3. If it was a work event why did many of those invited fail to turn up? If it’s work you have to be there, particularly if it’s government work.
  4. Why was the invitation couched in the terms ‘we’ and ‘us’? Who else was Martin Reynolds referring to if it wasn’t his boss, Boris Johnson?
  5. If it wasn’t Johnson being referred to might it have been his partner Carrie Symonds? Carrie is said to be fond of a good party.
  6. Can Johnson’s PPS send out an email invitation to a drinks party in the gardens of 10 Downing Street without first securing the permission of his boss and PM, Boris Johnson, who claims it is his garden although used for government and official state events.
  7. The official Number 10 website puts the number of people working in the Downling Street complex in 2007 at 170. So going by that figure or one slightly higher, the invitation must have been sent to around half of those working there. It seems inconceivable that Johnson heard nothing about a party from those he came into contact with, especially a party in his own back garden, to which over half his staff had been invited. Surely there was talk?
  8. The story being punted is that the PM, stretching his legs after a tiring time in front of his desk, wandered from his office to thank staff for their hard work and merely stumbled across the event, surprised to discover food laid out and colleagues quaffing booze they had brought along. Unperturbed by the lack of laptops, notebooks, official papers, writing implements, the food laid out on tables, the booze, the illegal nature of the event, and his partner comfortably esconced in an armchair, Johnson assumed it was a work event, and plumped himself in a chair beside his partner, his PPS and Dom Cummings and joined in.
  9. Did Johnson not think to ask why so many of the Number 10 staff were gathered in his garden, eating, drinking and enjoying themselves, believing implicitly it was a work event? Especially when gatherings of more than two people were banned during lockdown.
  10. In the 25 minutes Johnson now admits he was there, relaxing, enjoying a drink, did it never cross his mind that this was wrong and that others were suffering while he, his partner and staff partied?
  11. Where was Rishi Sunak from whose balcony the photo below was believed to have been taken? Invited? Refused? Elsewhere?
  12. If drinking when working either within or in the garden of Downing Street is deemed acceptable then surely this should be a cause for concern. When serious decisions have to be taken we need our leaders sober, not half cut.
  13. Did the fact this was the end of the parliamentary session and the start of the Whitsun recess prompt the desire to celebrate by a BYOB party in the warmth of a May evening?
  14. There have been reports on Twitter of staff being told to wipe their phones of anything pertaining to the ‘party’ before the investigation began. Others have pointed out that this is tampering with evidence and therefore a serious offence.
  15. Why didn’t the Prime Minister just admit to the party, say he was wrong and apologise instead of dragging out the exposé. Suggests Johnson can’t admit to being wrong. Or perhaps indicates he believes he can do as he likes and always get away with it.

Differing stories

The work event excuse obviously hadn’t been circulated to all MPs as Tory MP Simon Hoare told Sky News his understanding was the Number 10 party in question (that phrase ‘in question’ suggests there were others) was to thank Dominic Raab for deputising whilst the PM was ill and hospitalised with Covid-19, and to welcome Boris Johnson back to work. This may be so, but it’s not the reason given in Martin Reynolds email. This comment also suggests Raab was at the party but others have said he was elsewhere at the time. Odd. It also suggests the Prime Minister knew about it, otherwise why organise a party if he had another engagement and wouldn’t be able to attend?

This was said to be a photo of the Number 10 party on 20th May 2020. No so many people there, though some could have left by the time this was taken. There are chairs at the Johnson table that look from their position as if they had been occupied.

In a report in the Mirror, the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary said the Prime Minister neither received nor saw an email from his PPS Martin Reynolds inviting more than 100 staff to the event, nor had the PM asked Mr Reynolds to send the email. Martin Reynolds remains in his job, and of course has the Prime Minister’s “full confidence”. She refused to say how Johnson had found out about the event although Johnson himself said he had gone to thank staff for their hard work and merely stumbled across the party in his garden. What a surprise!

The Prime Minister’s Press Secretary also refused to say whether Johnson had enjoyed some drinks, taken along his own bottle of his favourite tipple, or made a speech at the ‘party’. Instead we are urged to wait for answers from the inquiry by Whitehall mandarin Sue Gray. His Press Secretary also refused to answer when asked whether the Prime Minister had taken legal advice on the wording of his statement to Parliament today. Many, after hearing what was said, suspected this was the case.

Blame game plan

Many also suspect that Johnson will wriggle out of this by pinning the blame elsewhere, for example on his PPS Martin Reynolds whose name is on the email. That this game plan was already in action was indicated in a Tweet by Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC Political Editor.

“Another Tory MP told me that in the tearoom the PM told him and colleagues ‘it’s not his fault and he’s bravely taking the blame for others’ – ’caused much consternation among colleagues’ given that he’d just given a public apology.”

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who previously said that if Boris Johnson lied to the House of Commons then he should resign, today called for Johnson’s resignation after he admitted attending the May 20th 2020 Downing Street party during lockdown. Senior Scottish Tory MSPs have now also called for their party leader and Prime Minister to step down.

Now we will wait for Sue Gray’s findings which many suspect will find Johnson completely innocent of any wrongdoing. Either that or he will receive a tentative rap over the knuckles. Sue Gray is in a difficult position as her career and integrity could be at risk whatever her decision. Better by far had the investigation been undertaken by someone outwith government.

This story has further to run. It’s not over yet.