Labour demands answers to five key questions in Govt partygate scandal

17 January 2022, 22:31

Labour has put five questions to the Prime Minister
Labour has put five questions to the Prime Minister. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Labour has set out five questions it says the Prime Minister must answer in relation to the partygate scandal.

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The PM is being quizzed on whether he knew about any of the alleged gatherings in advance, how he would categorise the infamous "bring your own booze" event on May 20 2020, and if he intends to "act as his own judge and jury" over his conduct.

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The latest intervention from the opposition follows a long line of allegations about rule-breaking in Downing Street.

Senior official Sue Gray is looking into a litany of possible events, including the BYOB garden party that Mr Johnson has admitted he attended - although he insists he understood it to be a "work event" which could "technically" have been within the rules.

In one of its questions for the PM, Labour asks on what grounds he thinks this gathering "followed guidance at the time".

The party also asks if any legal advice the Government has received on the matter will be published.

The Prime Minister previously said he recognised "with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside" instead of spending 25 minutes in the No 10 garden thanking staff for their work at the event.

Downing Street insisted he had not been sent an email from his principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, encouraging colleagues to go to the garden for "socially distanced drinks" to "make the most of this lovely weather" - and urging them to "bring your own booze".

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A report in the Sunday Times has claimed that the Prime Minister was warned by "at least two people" that the event being organised in Mr Reynolds' email amounted to "a party" and should be cancelled immediately.

Mr Johnson is said to have dismissed the concerns as an overreaction, praising his private secretary as "my loyal Labrador", according to the paper.

A No 10 spokeswoman said: "It is untrue that the Prime Minister was warned about the event in advance."

In its list of questions for the Prime Minister, Labour asks if Mr Johnson is "categorically denying" that "at any stage" he was given advance notice of any gathering, or that he "dismissed warnings" against allowing such an event to take place.

And it asks if the PM will "investigate who has said that he was warned about the parties in advance".

Separately, Labour asks about Mr Johnson's previous response to reports of a Christmas party held at Downing Street on December 18 2020.

Officials and advisers were said to have made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts - although the Prime Minister is not thought to have attended.

Mr Johnson told the House of Commons on December 8 2021 that he had been "repeatedly assured" since the allegations emerged that there was "no party" and "no Covid rules were broken".

Labour is now asking if the PM denies "misleading" the House when he made those comments.

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Lastly, the party asks if Mr Johnson plans to "act as his own judge and jury" over his conduct, as Ms Gray is embarking only on a "fact-finding exercise".

According to the Institute for Government, the senior official's final document is "set to be a largely factual account about parties that were held in Downing Street".

Catherine Haddon, a senior fellow at the think tank, said the report "may not assign individual blame but might refer disciplinary action to others".

Angela Rayner, Labour's deputy leader, said: "There is a clear pattern of lying and dodging the question from the Prime Minister.

"Boris Johnson was warned that the party on May 20 2020 was breaking the rules and yet he not only dismissed those concerns, but attended himself.

"Instead of hiding behind internal inquiries or technicalities, we need the Prime Minister to tell the truth pure and simple.

"Boris Johnson has failed to show leadership and it's the British public who have suffered. He must resign."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer himself has fallen under fire recently after a picture emerged of him drinking in a Labour office in April 2021, a time when indoor socialising was banned.

Sir Keir defended himself on LBC on Monday, saying: "We didn’t break any rules, we were working in the office and stopped for a takeaway.

"I understand what’s going on here, which is exactly what happened with Owen Paterson.

"There comes a point where the Tories try to take everybody into the gutter with them. That’s what’s happening here.

"We were working in the office and a takeaway turned up and we stopped and we ate it. There was no breach of the rules, no party, no comparison with the PM.

"The PM is facing allegations of multiple parties. There is simply no comparison."