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Boris 'threatens to sue Cabinet Office' over Covid 'stitch-up' after latest lockdown rule breaking claims
23 May 2023, 18:08 | Updated: 24 May 2023, 08:44
Boris Johnson "has threatened to sue" the Government after the Cabinet Office referred the former PM to the police over allegations he broke Covid rules by hosting friends and family at Chequers during lockdown.
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Mr Johnson's ministerial diary recorded the trips to the grace and favour country mansion used by prime ministers as a rural getaway during the period of lockdown rules.
The Cabinet Office has passed information to the Met and Thames Valley Police about the trips, The Times reports.
The former Conservative leader was said to have been furious about the move, with allies suggesting that it had been "politically motivated".
Sources close to Mr Johnson said he had already been given legal advice that none of the events in question were in breach of Covid rules, MailOnline reported.
A friend of the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP reportedly he was "seriously considering" taking legal action.
‘It appears the Cabinet Office has written to the privileges committee claiming that these events constitute lockdown breaches. That is not true and it is seriously defamatory,’ the source told the outlet.
The latest claims came to light amid preparations for the public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic.
The parliamentary committee that is investigating allegations Mr Johnson misled the House of Commons about "partygate" has been informed too.
But Mr Johnson's team have insisted the events in question "were all within the rules" and suggested the allegations are an attempt to undermine the former PM.
A spokesperson for Mr Johnson said: "The assertion by the Cabinet Office that there have been further COVID rule breaches is totally untrue.
"Lawyers have examined the events in question and advised that they were lawful.
"No contact was made with Mr Johnson before these incorrect allegations were made both to the police and to the Privileges Committee. This is both bizarre and unacceptable.
"For whatever political purpose, it is plain that a last ditch attempt is being made to lengthen the Privileges Committee investigation as it was coming to a conclusion and to undermine Mr Johnson."
The spokesperson said the former Conservative leader's lawyers have written to the police "to explain in detail why the Cabinet Office is entirely wrong in its assertions".
"The events in question were all within the rules either because they were held outdoors or came within another lawful exception" and "include regular meetings with civil servants and advisers", they said.
"It appears some within government have decided to make unfounded suggestions both to the police and to the Privileges Committee," the spokesperson added.
"Many will conclude that this has all the hallmarks of yet another politically motivated stitch up."
Speaking on LBC’s Cross Question on Tuesday evening very shortly after the news broke, Rachel Johnson said: “As far as I’m aware, all the rules were followed whenever I went to Chequers.”
Mr Johnson has been told by lawyers the events were lawful and did not break the rules, and they have given their opinion to the Cabinet Office and Privileges Committee.
He has had no contact from the police.
A source close to Mr Johnson denied his friends and family had visited the mansion in Buckinghamshire.
Sources in the Cabinet Office said it would not have been right for ministers or civil servants to review the evidence before it was sent to the authorities.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "Information came to light during the process of preparing evidence for submission to the Covid inquiry.
"It was identified as part of the normal disclosure review of potentially relevant documents being undertaken by the legal team for inquiry witnesses."
"In line with obligations in the civil service code, this material has been passed to the relevant authorities and it is now a matter for them."
Thames Valley Police said it had been told about potential breaches of Covid regulations between June 2020 and May 2021 at Chequers.
During that period the restrictions loosened and tightened. From June 2020, people could meet in groups of six outdoors and by July many of the rules were lifted, only for measures to be brought in from September and then a lockdown in November banned meetings outside of a household or support bubble.
The Met said it is current assessing the claims in relation to "potential breaches... at Downing Street".
Mr Johnson gave lawyers - funded by the Cabinet Office - access to the diary that included all his meetings for his defence, The Times was told.
But lawyers are said to have concerns about the details of visitors to Chequers - where Mr Johnson and his wife Carrie stayed repeatedly during the first lockdown - and raised it to senior Cabinet Office staff.
Mr Johnson, who is awaiting the findings from the privileges committee over whether he misled Parliament - something that could decide his political future - was fined by the Met over a birthday gathering in June 2020.