Boris Johnson has been confronted over whether he is a “liar” after repeatedly claiming no lockdown rules were broken – despite Sue Gray’s partygate report revealing booze-fuelled partying into the early hours, cleaners having to scrub red wine off the walls, a fight between staff, and a karaoke machine at the ready.
The long-awaited civil servant’s inquiry blamed “senior leadership” at the top of government for allowing lockdown-busting parties to take place in Downing Street and Whitehall.
In an implicit criticism of the prime minister, she said those in charge “at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility” for what went on.
She also said the behaviour of those involved “fell well short” of the standards the public expected of those running the country.
The 37-page report into 16 gatherings comes after the Metropolitan Police’s investigation issued 126 fixed penalty notices to 83 people, including the prime minister, his wife Carrie and the chancellor, Rishi Sunak.
At a press conference following the Gray report’s release, ITV News journalist Paul Brand – who has broken a series of partygate stories – challenged the PM over whether his words in recent weeks were credible.
He said: “Prime minister, you said so far that some of this rule breaking was news to you. You told MPs, you told us all categorically, that no rules were broken. But this is your home. You saw what was going on, you participated in what was going on, you made the rules as prime minister, so it does beg the question: are you a liar?”
On December 1, 2021, Johnson told the Commons: “All guidance was followed completely in No.10.”
Later that month he also told parliament he was “sure that whatever happened, the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”.
Johnson replied to Brand at the news conference: “No.”
He added that “it didn’t occur to me” that what he witnessed was a breach of the rules, as he admitted “things did not go well” after he left one of the events.
The PM said: “I was in the cabinet room for a short period, standing up at my desk on June 19, 2020, and some people came in to congratulate me on my birthday. Now, there weren’t many of them. It didn’t occur to me that this was a breach of the rules. I will be absolutely frank with you, it didn’t occur to me. It really didn’t. And that was just the way it was.
“Similarly, when I was speaking to colleagues about the departure of another government adviser or an official, it didn’t occur to me that this was anything except what I think was my duty to do, as prime minister, during a pandemic. And that is why I did it. And that is why I spoke as I did in the house of commons.
“And yes, as Sue has found and as everybody can see and as the evidence has shown, after I had been there … things did not go well.”
When asked if he heard music or partying upstairs, Johnson said: “No. No. Let’s be absolutely clear, this is a very, very big place. If you take No 10 ten and the Cabinet Office together, there are hundreds of rooms.
“My impression was that I was personally at work events, but that doesn’t absolve me of responsibility for what happened in this place. I take that responsibility. I continue to make sure that we make changes. I have apologised today, not just again to the house and to the country, but also to the custodians and the staff, who now it turns out were wrongly and badly treated.”