Boris Johnson to face Keir Starmer at PMQs as anger over No 10 lockdown parties intensifies – live

LIVE – Updated at 11:58

Labour says it is very clear May 2020 party broke Covid rules as Johnson faces crunch PMQs amid Tory backbench fury.


Simon Hart, the Welsh secretary, has become the first cabinet minister to publicly expresss concerns about the latest partygate revelations. As WalesOnline reports, Hart said this morning:

We’re in the middle of an investigation, that was set up by the PM to get to the bottom and to get to the truth about what was reasonable at the time and what wasn’t. It’s frustrating to have to rely on the investigation and we must be careful to not pre-judge that or what the PM will say in a few minutes time.

The one thing I’m not going to do is make light of something that is unquestionably something of a significant public concern.

I don’t live on a different planet. The frustration and the hurt and indignation and the incredulity that emerging stories like this produce. I’ve got, like everyone, family and friends asking me these questions. We have to get to the bottom of this.

Judgement will need to be made about what happens next.


PMQs is starting soon.

Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question.

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PMQs Photograph: HoC


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Boris Johnson leaving No 10 on his way to the Commons for PMQs this morning. Photograph: DW Images/REX/Shutterstock


There is some excellent detail about the No 10 party on 20 May 2020 in the Times’s backgrounder. In their report (paywall), Steven Swinford and Henry Zeffman say that Martin Reynolds, who sent out the email invitation to around 100 staff as the PM’s principal private secretary, became “panicky” in advance of the event, because staff were concerned it was against the rules, but decided cancelling the event would make things worse. They go on:

That afternoon, staff began preparations. A row of tables was set up on one side of the garden to act as a bar. In the garden itself more tables were set up in a layout to encourage people to observe social-distancing rules.

Officials and advisers began arriving shortly after 6pm. While many stayed away, about 40 came. Many took up Reynolds’ suggestion in his email that they should “BYOB” — bring your own booze — taking a trip to the Tesco Express next to Westminster station. The drinks table was well stocked with gin, rosé, red wine and white wine, and guests began to arrive and mingle.

Two sources said that the prime minister attended, with one saying he was “wandering round gladhanding people”. His fiancée Carrie Symonds, whom he married last year, also attended and was said to have been drinking with Henry Newman, then an adviser to Michael Gove and now a senior figure in No 10.

The Times has been told that one senior official at the event joked about the risk of surveillance by drones, which was viewed as a tacit admission that the rules were being breached.


Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is a favourite to replace Boris Johnson if he does have to resign. Conveniently, a diary engagement in Devon means that Sunak will be nowhere near the Commons at 12pm, and won’t have to sit on the frontbench alongside the PM offering his support.


Turning away from partygate for a moment, the Good Law Project, a campaigning group which has been using the law to challenge the government on policy matters, says it has won an important victory in the high court today on PPE procurement. It says the high court has accepted its case that the governnment’s use of a fast-track VIP lane, that allowed suppliers recommended by ministers to get priority consideration when emergency PPE contracts were being handed out in earlier stages of the pandemic, was unlawful.

Welcoming the decision, Jo Maugham, head of the Good Law Project, said: “Never again should any government treat a public health crisis as an opportunity to enrich its associates and donors at public expense.”


According to the Liberal Democrats, the police in England issued 118,419 fines for breaking lockdown rules between 27 March 2020 and 17 October last year. That included 800 fines in the week when the No 10 party was held on 20 May 2020.

In London 17,745 fines were issued between March 2020 and October last year, including 113 for holding illegal gatherings of more than 30 people.

The party has taken the figures from a report (pdf) from the National Police Chiefs’ Council. Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, said:

Thousands of Londoners have been fined for flouting lockdown rules during the pandemic. It would be double standards of the worst kind for the police to turn a blind eye when those in No 10 have done the same.


There will be two urgent questions in the Commons after PMQs. The first, at 12.30pm, will cover the government’s vaccination strategy, and at about 1.15pm there will be one on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.


What will Boris Johnson say about partygate at PMQs? Last night the FT columnist Robert Shrimsley tried to guess, and his script reads like a plausible version of what we may hear in about an hour’s time.

The Independent’s John Rentoul is expecting something very similar.

In response to Shrimsley’s tweet, John McTernan, who worked for Tony Blair in Downing Street, proposes a much more humbling mea culpa – laced with patriotism, and a promise to do better. (Other politicians might be able to pull this off, but given Johnson’s record on promise-keeping, he might find it hard.)

Theo Bertram, another former Labour No 10 aide, thinks Martin Reynolds will be sacrificed.

And the i’s Paul Waugh suggests Johnson might go for a wider standards overhaul.


This is from James Forsyth, the Spectator’s political editor, who is one of the lobby journalists best informed on the thinking in the Conservative parliamentary party.


Another journalist who is very well plugged in to the thinking of Tory MPs is the Conservative Home editor Paul Goodman, a former MP himself. In what might be a rather ominous development for Johnson, Goodman devotes his main ConHome article this morning to discussing the process by which the Conservative party might go about replacing him (although he does not describe Johnson’s resignation as inevitable).

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey says Johnson should resign

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, has said Boris Johnson should resign. He told BBC Breakfast:

Boris Johnson is now incapable of leading our country through this public health crisis – I actually think he is a threat to the health of the nation, because no-one will do anything he says because he has now shown to have been deceitful, so Boris Johnson must now resign …

He said to parliament and to the country before Christmas when he was apologising that he didn’t know about the parties, and now we know he was at at least one of those parties.

So, he has clearly lied, he has broken the ministerial code, he has broken the law, he’s misled parliament – any prime minister in the past would resign for just one of those offences …

If he has a shred of decency left in him, I think he must resign today.

Tory MPs divided over whether Johnson can stay if he attended lockdown-busting No 10 party

This is what some Conservative MPs have been saying about Boris Johnson in interviews broadcast this morning.

Huw Merriman told the Today programme that he did not think Johnson inevitably had to resign if he attended the party on 20 May 2020. He said:

We don’t know what’s happened and I feel rotten speculating before we know the facts – but as far as I’m concerned we judge people in the round. That includes the action that was taken during the pandemic, the support, the vaccination programme, [and] holding the nerve on plan B. Then you then judge where people have done wrong.

But Merriman also said Johnson had to clear up what happened.

Nigel Mills took the opposite view. He said that if Johnson did attend the party, he would have to go. He told the BBC:

It is utterly untenable, we have seen people resign for far less than that. If the prime minister knowingly attended a party, I can’t see how he can survive …

If he was there he better try a hugely fulsome apology and see if the country will buy it but I’m not sure they will.

And Tobias Ellwood said it was essential for Johnson to show some contrition. He told Sky News:

I strongly urge the prime minister to act now, to apologise for No 10’s poor judgment, to show some contrition and to be committed to appropriately respond to Sue Gray’s findings when they come out. We can’t allow things to drift, that is not an option.

Asked if that would be enough for Johnson to stay in post, Ellwood replied:

It would probably be for the cabinet then to judge, and then also what he says and how he says it. But we need to get ahead of the story. This is distracting us, it is taking airtime away.


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10 Downing Street this morning, as seen through the lens of one of the TV cameras in the street. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA


The Conservative MP Christian Wakeford says, in what is clearly a reference to the No 10 partygate stories, that he and his colleagues have been asked to “defend the indefensible”.


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Keir Starmer leaving his home in London this morning ahead of PMQs later. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Boris Johnson cannot defend No 10 party by claiming it was work, says Labour

Good morning. Like many politicians, Boris Johnson normally lives by the dictum, “Never apologise, never explain”. (It’s a saying attributed to various people, but the best source for it I can find is Jacky Fisher, first sea lord in the first world war, who wrote in a letter to the Times “Never contradict, never explain, never apologise”.) But today, in relation to the reports that he attended a staff party in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020, when the country was in lockdown and outdoor gatherings were banned, Johnson is almost certainly going to have to come up with some sort of apology and some sort of explanation. Yesterday No 10 was trying to stick to the line that it could wait until Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating all the partygate allegations, produces her report. But anyone following the Westminster news from yesterday for more than about 30 seconds will have twigged that that line can no longer hold.

Here is the Guardian story summing up the situation overnight.

Related: Furious Tories pile pressure on Boris Johnson over No 10 parties

Johnson will be in the Commons for PMQs at 12pm. Last night there was speculation about some sort of statement beforehand, but that probably referred to a plan to begin PMQs with a comment addressing the partygate affair, to gain some credit ahead of Keir Starmer’s first question. This is exactly what Johnson did on 8 December, when he was under intense pressure because of the release of the video showing Allegra Stratton, his then spokesperson, effectively confirming a separate lockdown-busting No 10 party (on 18 December 2020), and laughing about it, at a briefing rehearsal. (The latest allegation is much worse, for reasons explained here yesterday.)

The nature of Johnson’s explanation/apology may well determine how long he remains as prime minister. Obviously some people are likely to be more forgiving than others, but what will matter most for Johnson will be the reaction of Tory MPs, who have the power to trigger a confidence vote if they conclude this afternoon that he remains too much of a liability. Ultimately the public’s reaction will be more important (because that will shape whether Tory MPs conclude he remains viable as a leader), but it might take longer to assess what the public’s considered view is.

Given that some Tory MPs have said Johnson would have to resign if he knowingly attended a social party, Johnson is likely to argue that the 20 May event last year was essentially a work function, but in a garden, with alcohol. Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has been doing interviews and she told the Today programme that this explanation would be implausible. She said:

I don’t accept that sending out invitations to bring your own booze – the weather’s lovely, come out into the garden – to 100 staff as work, to be honest. I think it’s very clear that that breaks the Covid rules.

Asked if she accepted that the No 10 garden could be seen as a workplace, Rayner replied:

Many key workers are NHS staff who were working very heavy shifts, 12-hour shifts with full PPE on – they didn’t break out into the garden with cheese and wine and bring your own booze scenarios.

They were working incredibly hard watching people’s loved ones die, holding smart phones and iPads in front of them so they could say goodbye to their loved ones – it is not acceptable to say: ‘This is a workplace garden, so we all cracked open the bubbly because it was a really nice day.’

Many people at the time understood the rules, and the rules were very clear.

Largely Johnson’s future will be determined by what he says at PMQs, but there could be other partygate-related developments today too. A few hours after PMQs on 8 December Stratton resigned. Martin Reynolds, who as Johnson’s principal private secretary sent out the invitation to the 20 May party, is widely expected to go at some point and it is quite possible that that could be today.

Apart from PMQs, there is not much on the agenda. Today the blog will be largely focused on Johnson and partygate.

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Rayner says Johnson’s position will be untenable if he has lied to MPs about parties

In interviews this morning Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, also said that Boris Johnson’s position would be untenable if it turns out he has attended lockdown-busting parties at Downing Street because that would mean that he had lied to the House of Commons (which is against the ministerial code, and generally seen as a resignation offence for ministers).

Asked if Johnson would have to resign if he did admit to attending the 20 May party, Rayner told BBC Breakfast:

Boris Johnson has to account for his actions and the ministerial code is very clear that if he has misled parliament and he has not abided by that code, then he should go.

She added that if it was proved he had “lied to the British public, lied to Parliament and he has attended parties during lockdown, then his position is untenable”.

Yesterday Labour released a dossier to journalists citing the many occasions since early December, when the partygate allegations first emerged, when Johnson has denied that rules were broken. Some of those denials were at the despatch box in the Commons, and some were in TV interviews.

But the quotes in the Commons relate to allegations that the rules were broken in Christmas 2020, and Johnson’s denials related to those events, not the 20 May one. And after initially claiming that no rules had been broken, Johnson adjusted his line, and instead started telling MPs he had been assured that no rules were broken (implying that if he was being misleading, it was someone else’s fault, because he had been misled himself).


Keir Starmer will be at PMQs today, the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg reports. Starmer has been isolating since he tested positive for Covid last week. But he has tested negative two days in a row – making him a beneficiary of the government’s decision to cut the minimum isolation period from 10 days to seven days.

Source: Thanks