Home » No 10 Denies Reports Boris Johnson Was Warned In Advance That Party On 20 May 2020 Was Mistake – UK Politics Live

No 10 Denies Reports Boris Johnson Was Warned In Advance That Party On 20 May 2020 Was Mistake – UK Politics Live

13:13

No 10 firmly denies widespread reports PM was warned in advance party on 20 May 2020 was mistake

At the Downing Street lobby briefing No 10 again denied that Boris Johnson was warned in advance of the party in the garden on 20 May 2020 that the event should not go ahead because it would break Covid rules. The invitation to around 100 staff was sent out by Johnson’s own principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds.

In his column in the Sunday Times yesterday (paywall)
Dominic Lawson said at least two people told Johnson in advance it was a bad idea. Lawson wrote:

Last week I spoke to a former Downing Street official who said at least two people had told the PM, after seeing the emailed invitation from his principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, that this was “a party” and should be immediately cancelled. I was told that Johnson’s dismissive response was to say they were “overreacting” and to praise Reynolds as “my loyal labrador”.

I then asked someone who has known the PM for decades what could have made him take such an approach (other than natural hospitality and affability). His immediate answer was: “It’s because deep down he obviously thought the regulations were ridiculous – so why should he observe them?

Asked about the claim, the spokesperson said: “I think we made it clear yesterday that wasn’t accurate.”

When it was pointed out that other journalists, such as the Mail on Sunday’s Dan Hodges, had also heard the same story, the spokesperson again said it was not accurate. Asked if something not being accurate was the same as something not being true, the spokesperson said:

We made it clear over the weekend that it is untrue to say that the prime minister was told or warned ahead of that [that the event should not go ahead].

Here is the tweet from Hodges.

(((Dan Hodges))) (@DPJHodges)

I was told an aide directly questioned Boris about his plan to attend the Downing Street party. Dominic Lawson was told the same thing. As, reportedly, was @KayBurley. So the question is who’s lying. The people we have all talked to independently. Or No 10.

January 17, 2022

My colleague Heather Stewart has also spoken to a former Downing Street staffer who said they knew of at least one colleague who had warned Johnson personally about the “bring your own booze” event on 20 May. Asked whether the prime minister knew about the party before it took place, the former insider replied: “Yes.”

I will post more from the briefing shortly.

Updated

15:05

Tories urge Sturgeon to drop most Covid restrictions in Scotland at end of month

The Scottish Conservatives have called on Nicola Sturgeon to remove most coronavirus restrictions, with the exception of face coverings, PA Media reports. PA says:

Ahead of the first minister’s Covid update tomorrow, where a decision is expected on current restrictions on hospitality and leisure venues, Tory leader Douglas Ross has asked her to go further.

As well as an end to restrictions currently on businesses, that put a cap of 100 on indoor standing events and 200 on seated events, enforce table service for alcohol-selling businesses and mandate social distancing between groups, the Tories are looking for the first minister to announce the scrapping of the vaccine passport scheme along with guidance on household mixing and social distancing.

The Tory plea, which would see changes come into effect from 31 January, also calls for mask wearing in schools to be dropped and work from home guidance to be dropped, while self-isolation would be “gradually phased out” over a period of months.

Nicola Sturgeon visiting the turbine installation company, Windhoist, in Irvine, today. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

14:52

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, told Radio 4’s the World at One that Labour would support any “sensible” measures to save lives in the Channel. But she cast doubt on the sincerity and viability of government plans to put the military in charge. (See 11.07am.) She told the programme:

More action is needed to deal with the dangerous boat crossings that are putting lives at risk. In particular, I mean serious hard work with France on stopping the criminal gangs and preventing the crossings in the first place. So look, we would support any sensible measures that could save lives in the Channel.

But there’s two problems with this. First is the timing of it, where it is a briefing to the Times which government sources are themselves admitting is part of what they describe as Operation Save Big Dog and being about saving the prime minister’s skin rather than a serious approach to the problem.

The second is we don’t really know very much about this, but we do know they have used the navy before, three years ago. At that point, they had two navy vessels that didn’t intercept any boats, and that was stopped.

So we don’t know what would be different this time round and we do need to actually have some more proper, serious information about this, rather than the kind of briefings that we’ve got instead.

Yvette Cooper. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

14:05

No 10 defends PM’s decision to commute between Chequers and Downing Street in March 2020 when non-essential travel discouraged

And here is a summary of the main points from the Downing Street lobby briefing.

  • No 10 firmly denied widespread reports that Boris Johnson was warned in advance by colleagues that holding a party on 20 May 2020 would be a mistake. (See 1.13pm.)
  • The PM’s spokesman defended Boris Johnson’s decision to commute between Chequers and No 10 between 16 and 27 March 2020, when guidance said people should not travel for non-essential reasons. These trips were revealed by the website Tortoise on Friday, after Downing Street dodged questions on them for more than a year. The spokesman said:

At the time, as you know, Mrs Johnson was heavily pregnant and had been placed in a vulnerable category and advised to minimise social contacts, so in line with clinical guidance and to minimise the risk to her they were based at Chequers during that period, with the prime minister commuting to Downing Street to work.

On 16 March 2020 Johnson told the public to stop all unnecessary travel. The spokesman said the guidance on not travelling to second homes did not come in until March 22, “at which point the prime minister and his wife were already based in Chequers, acting in line with clinical guidance”. Asked why the PM’s wife could not stay in Downing Street during this period, the spokesman said:

The guidance [to] all pregnant women and anyone in a vulnerable category was to minimise social contact as much as possible.

It is argued that, because No 10 is a home and a workplace, Chequers was a better place to minimise social contacts. But it has been reported that the PM’s wife, Carrie, held a baby shower at Chequers on 14 March. Asked if Johnson and his wife had any non-work visitors while staying at Chequers, the spokesman replied:

Well, they were acting in accordance with the guidance and any subsequent legislation at all times. So beyond that, I don’t have any more to add.

  • The spokesman said he “couldn’t put a timescale on” when Sue Gray will publish her report on partying at No 10. He also refused to deny reports that Johnson has been interviewed by Gray.
  • The spokesman said the government was committed to reviewing the BBC’s funding model in 2027, when the current licence fee settlement ends. He would not confirm Nadine Dorries’s claim that the licence fee would definitely be replaced then. He said:

We have said that we will keep the licence fee until the end of the current charter period in 2027 but ahead of that point we will review how the BBC is funded.

Yesterday Dorries, the culture secretary, went further, saying the licence fee would go after 2027.

Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries)

This licence fee announcement will be the last. The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors, are over.

Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content. https://t.co/sXtK25q27H

January 16, 2022

  • The spokesman denied claims that the licence fee announcement was an attempt to distract attention from Johnson’s leadership difficulties. (See 10.26am.) Asked about these claims, the spokesman said: “The government’s commitment to BBC reform is long standing.”
  • The spokesman would not deny reports that the military will be put in charge of trying to stop people crossing the Channel in small boats. (See 11.07am). Asked about this story, the spokesman said:

It’s right that we pursue all options to prevent illegal crossings, to protect life at sea. The UK armed forces already work closely with Border Force in these operations, given their expertise and experience in maritime operations. But beyond that I’m not going to get into speculation about further discussions we may or may not have on how we improve our response.

  • And the spokesman did not deny that Ghana and Rwanda have been asked if they will host offshore processing centres for people coming to the UK who want to claim asylum. (See 11.07am). But he could not confirm the story either. “It’s obviously not helpful to talk about ongoing discussions we have with individual countries,” he said.
  • The spokesman said there were “encouraging signs” in the data ahead of the forthcoming decision on whether Covid restrictions for England can be lifted on 26 January.
  • The spokesman said Johnson, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, are continuing to discuss what can be done to ease the burden on householders facing rising fuel costs. But no announcement is expected this week.
  • The spokesman said he had not heard Johnson refer to himself as “big dog”, and he said he had not heard staff use the term either. The No 10 effort to save Johnson has been nicknamed “Operation Save Big Dog”, but No 10 says the phrase does not come from them.

Police officers in Downing Street today. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Updated

13:13

No 10 firmly denies widespread reports PM was warned in advance party on 20 May 2020 was mistake

At the Downing Street lobby briefing No 10 again denied that Boris Johnson was warned in advance of the party in the garden on 20 May 2020 that the event should not go ahead because it would break Covid rules. The invitation to around 100 staff was sent out by Johnson’s own principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds.

In his column in the Sunday Times yesterday (paywall)
Dominic Lawson said at least two people told Johnson in advance it was a bad idea. Lawson wrote:

Last week I spoke to a former Downing Street official who said at least two people had told the PM, after seeing the emailed invitation from his principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, that this was “a party” and should be immediately cancelled. I was told that Johnson’s dismissive response was to say they were “overreacting” and to praise Reynolds as “my loyal labrador”.

I then asked someone who has known the PM for decades what could have made him take such an approach (other than natural hospitality and affability). His immediate answer was: “It’s because deep down he obviously thought the regulations were ridiculous – so why should he observe them?

Asked about the claim, the spokesperson said: “I think we made it clear yesterday that wasn’t accurate.”

When it was pointed out that other journalists, such as the Mail on Sunday’s Dan Hodges, had also heard the same story, the spokesperson again said it was not accurate. Asked if something not being accurate was the same as something not being true, the spokesperson said:

We made it clear over the weekend that it is untrue to say that the prime minister was told or warned ahead of that [that the event should not go ahead].

Here is the tweet from Hodges.

(((Dan Hodges))) (@DPJHodges)

I was told an aide directly questioned Boris about his plan to attend the Downing Street party. Dominic Lawson was told the same thing. As, reportedly, was @KayBurley. So the question is who’s lying. The people we have all talked to independently. Or No 10.

January 17, 2022

My colleague Heather Stewart has also spoken to a former Downing Street staffer who said they knew of at least one colleague who had warned Johnson personally about the “bring your own booze” event on 20 May. Asked whether the prime minister knew about the party before it took place, the former insider replied: “Yes.”

I will post more from the briefing shortly.

Updated

12:29

There will be two statements in the Commons today after 3.30pm, Labour says. Priti Patel, the home secretary, will make one on security (presumably the implications of the Texas synagogue seige), and then Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, will make a statement on the BBC.

Labour Whips (@labourwhips)

TWO STATEMENTS TODAY:

[email protected] – Security Update

[email protected] MediaUpdate

January 17, 2022

12:19

MPs will consider the remaining stages of the elections bill this afternoon. Ahead of the debate, the Electoral Reform Society has produced a new briefing on the bill (pdf), which it says will damage democracy. This is from Jess Garland, the ERS’s director of policy and research.

Ministers have attempted to dodge scrutiny over key parts of this bill and the result is a dangerous mix of proposals that risk shutting voters out of our democracy and weaking the integrity of our elections.

From plans to shut voters out from the ballot box for lacking the right ID, to minsters’ power grab over our independent elections watchdog, this bill stands to damage democracy.

Opposition to the bill is widespread and growing, with MPs from all parties now calling on the government to stop and re-think their plans for changing election law. It’s time for the government to listen.

Updated

12:19

A cleaner sweeping in Downing Street this morning. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

11:43

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has this morning announced the winners of the ScotWind offshore wind leasing auction. The Scottish government says the 17 projects selected represent “the world’s first commercial scale opportunity for floating offshore wind”. Floating offshore wind means wind turbines not fixed to the seabed, which can operate in deeper waters.

Crown Estate Scot (@CrownEstateScot)

Today, we’ve announced the results of ScotWind, the first Scottish offshore wind leasing round in a decade. This is an early but important step towards building the next generation of offshore wind projects. https://t.co/19GVmZRPdm
1/3 #ScotWind #NetZero #OffshoreWind pic.twitter.com/4gvY86bBaT

January 17, 2022

Chris Stark, chief executive of the UK’s Climate Change Commitee, has welcomed the announcement.

Chris Stark (@ChiefExecCCC)

Wooft. Up to 25GW of new offshore wind capacity through the ScotWind leasing round – much higher than many expected. More than half is floating, which will really build confidence.

Huge numbers. A big challenge for the consenting system after this too.https://t.co/RCdDVfCJao

January 17, 2022

11:07

In interviews this morning Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, failed to deny reports that the government wants to put the military in charge of stopping people crossing the Channel on small boats. Asked about these reports, he replied:

It is a good idea that there is a single command and control, and that includes not just naval vessels but all other vessels including Border Force, so that you actually have a co-ordinated operation in terms of the small boats.

A really important idea is the legislation that Priti Patel [the home secretary] has put through parliament to allow us to have a much better way of dealing with illegal migration because there are legal routes for migration. You know, I’m the son of immigrants.

The Times says this morning that the military will be put in charge of the Channel under one of several policy initiatives being promoted by the government in the hope that they will appeal to Tory voters, and shore up support for the PM. In their story (paywall) Steven Swinford and Matt Dathan report:

Plans are also being drawn up to send migrants to countries such as Ghana and Rwanda for processing and resettlement in a move to tackle the small boats crisis.

The prime minister will give the Royal Navy “primacy” over all government vessels in the Channel this month in one of a series of populist announcements as he faces pressure to quit over Downing Street parties.

A rear admiral will have the power to direct Border Force, coastguard, fisheries protection and customs and excise to carry out surveillance or intercept those crossing the Channel.

Yesterday the Sunday Times said pushing out populist policies like this, and replacing the BBC licence fee, were part of what it dubbed an “Operation Red Meat” strategy intended to protect the prime minister. In his interviews this morning Zahawi said he did not accept this account. He said “government doesn’t operate like that” and that these policies were being implemented because they were in the Tory manifesto.

11:07

Boris Johnson photographed jogging with his dog Dilyn in St James’s Park this morning. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters