Boris and officials broke lockdown laws and made 'brazen excuses', says Sir John Major

10 February 2022, 11:29 | Updated: 10 February 2022, 15:59

Sir John Major blasts ’shifty' government over Partygate

By Asher McShane

Former PM Sir John Major has said No10 staffers made up "brazen excuses" and officials and the PM "broke lockdown laws" in a stinging attack over the Partygate scandal.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Sir John's loaded speech today took aim squarely at Boris Johnson's government and the fallout over the scandal.

Sir John said the PM "broke lockdown laws, "brazen excuses were dreamed up" and that the public had been asked to "believe the unbelievable" over lockdown parties at Downing Street.

Boris Johnson hit back saying it was "demonstrably untrue" that partygate had damaged the UK's reputation on the international stage.

In a hard-hitting speech to the Institute for Government in London, he strongly condemned the way Boris Johnson has responded to the disclosures about lockdown parties in No 10.

"At No 10, the Prime Minister and officials broke lockdown laws," he said.

Read more: Boris warns this is the 'most dangerous moment' in Europe for decades amid Ukraine crisis

Read more: More woes for Boris? Now police consider investigating £100k Downing St flat refurb

"Brazen excuses were dreamed up. Day after day the public was asked to believe the unbelievable. Ministers were sent out to defend the indefensible - making themselves look gullible or foolish.

"Collectively, this has made the Government look distinctly shifty, which has consequences that go far beyond political unpopularity. No Government can function properly if its every word is treated with suspicion.

"Trust in politics is at a low ebb, eroded by foolish behaviour, leaving a sense of unease about how our politics is being conducted. Too often, ministers have been evasive, and the truth has been optional.

"When ministers respond to legitimate questions with pre-prepared soundbites, or half-truths, or misdirection, or wild exaggeration, then respect for government and politics dies a little more.

"Misleading replies to questions invite disillusion. Outright lies breed contempt.

"In our democracy, we are able to speak truth to power. But if democracy is to be respected, power must also speak truth to the people. And yet, in recent years, they have not been doing so."

Mr Johnson has refused to say whether he will resign if he is fined for breaching lockdown restrictions by police investigating a string of events in Downing Street.

The Prime Minister is expected to be among the more than 50 individuals in No 10 and Whitehall who will receive legal questionnaires from officers working on Operation Hillman.

Scotland Yard said it will be dispatching the questionnaires by the end of the week as officers consider whether to widen the investigation to cover a Christmas quiz in No 10 in December 2020.

Police are reconsidering their decision not to include that event after a photograph emerged of Mr Johnson and colleagues near an open bottle of sparkling wine.

The Prime Minister has already resisted calls to resign, but these are expected to grow louder if he is issued with a fixed penalty notice.

Asked at a press conference with Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg to discuss Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Prime Minister said he would not outline how he would respond until the police investigation concludes.

"That process must be completed and I'm looking forward to it being completed and that's the time to say more on that," he told reporters in Brussels.

Pressed a second time, Mr Johnson responded: "I understand but we're going to wait for the process to be completed."