Iain Dale 7pm - 10pm
How could Boris Johnson try to explain the latest Partygate allegations?
11 January 2022, 20:01 | Updated: 12 January 2022, 10:49
Boris Johnson is being urged to say whether or not he attended a Downing Street party during the first coronavirus lockdown after revelations last night sparked fresh anger.
Listen to this article
The alleged "bring your own booze" garden party took place during England's first lockdown in May 2020.
The latest revelation came in an email invitation, leaked to ITV, from the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street employees.
Multiple reports have suggested the Prime Minister attended the event with his wife.
At the time people were only allowed to meet outdoors with one person from outside their household.
What has the PM said so far
The email emerged on Monday afternoon, but the story began to unfold on Friday and over the weekend.
Mr Johnson had dodged a question over his involvement in the alleged event earlier on Monday.
He instead deferred to an ongoing investigation by senior official Sue Gray into numerous allegations of lockdown-breaking parties across Whitehall.
"All that, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray," he said.
Today, the PM's official spokesman also refused to comment on the claims while the investigation was taking place.
He added that the Prime Minister retained full confidence in Mr Reynolds.
How could he try to explain the latest revelation
Tomorrow, Mr Johnson will face MPs at PMQs, and how he will go about explaining the email, or whether he will even try to attempt this, remains to be seen.
It is thought that it could be argued that, because Downing Street is his home as well as a workplace for many others, he has a right to use the garden during lockdown.
It could also be argued that work meetings often take place in the No 10 garden, during the day and into the evening, and that these meetings sometimes involve the consumption of alcohol.
'It's a secure area'
The Tory MP Michael Fabricant's defence of the PM when he spoke to LBC earlier could give an indication of how No 10 will try to explain away the latest revelation.
He told Shelagh Forgarty: "In the Downing Street complex you've got something like 100 offices connecting three buildings and then the Cabinet Office, it's a secure area.
"Some of these people were working 18 hours a day as I know many nurses did and the garden is part of that secure area so I guess… they probably thought well as we were working together anyway… going into the garden was in fact a less confined environment than the office they were in.
"The point is there was no mixing, this is a secure garden, guarded by armed police... there was no chance of mixing with other people who weren't already there in the offices where they worked.
"It's very different from actually going to a pub or a park bench, mixing with other people who you hadn't seen spreading the disease, this is people who had been working very closely together in a very confined space."
Meanwhile, the "work meeting" excuse formed the crux of the PM's defence after allegations previously emerged of a cheese and wine party in the garden, also in May 2020.
Mr Johnson insisted: "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."
In response to allegations of leaving parties, Christmas parties and quizzes at No 10 in November and December 2020, the PM insisted guidance was followed at all times and no rules broken.
When addressing allegations of a Christmas party on December 18, 2020, which he is not thought to have attended, he told the Commons: "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."
He added to MPs: "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."