Coronavirus regulations were breached in lockdown-busting parties in Westminster, the Metropolitan Police has confirmed, as it issues the first set of fines relating to the row.
However, opposition MPs argue that this flies in the face of what Boris Johnson and his team said when the news first broke. This could be almost as serious as the rule breach itself: if the prime minister is found to have misled Parliament, he could be forced to resign.
In the two weeks after allegations of parties being held during lockdown in Downing Street and in government departments across Whitehall first came out, the government denied the rules were broken 39 times.
The Daily Mirror’s first report of Downing Street parties in Christmas 2020 attended by Boris Johnson and Downing Street staff is denied by a government spokesperson, who tells the newspaper: “Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid tells LBC: “Whether it’s in Number 10 or any Government department, all rules would have been followed at all times… I don’t think there’s anything there.”
Later that day at Prime Minister’s Questions, Johnson denies the claim the rules had been broken. He tells Parliament: “All guidance was followed completely in No. 10.”
In a briefing to Westminster journalists afterwardsJohnson’s spokesperson says in response to a series of questions: “Clearly at all stages the rules have been followed. […] We don’t recognise this account. […] The Covid rules have been followed at all times. […] We do not recognise this report and covid rules have been followed at all times. […] I will repeat that Covid rules have been followed at all times. […] All I’m saying is we don’t recognise those accounts and all covid rules have been followed at all times. […] We don’t recognise this report and Covid rules have been followed at all times. […] I will repeat that Covid rules have been followed at all times. […] We don’t recognise this report and all Covid rules have been followed. […] I’m happy, very happy, to repeat that I don’t recognise it and Covid rules have been followed at all times. […] Covid rules have been followed at all times.”
The spokesperson denied the rules were breached 10 times.
Science Minister George Freeman tells Times Radio, according to an Evening Standard report: “Before coming on this morning, I’ve made all the inquiries and I’m absolutely assured that all the rules were followed.”
Health Minister Maggie Throup says on the BBC’s Question Time: “The Prime Minister said quite clearly on Wednesday at PMQs that all guidance was followed.”
Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden tells BBC Breakfast, according to the Evening Standard: “I have, however, been assured by what the Prime Minister has said, which is that the rules at all times were obeyed in Downing Street.”
Johnson tells the BBC: “That’s not true. We followed the guidance throughout. We continue to follow the guidance.” Pressed by a journalist, he says: “We followed the guidance at all times. […] We followed the guidance at all times. […] I’m sorry, but I’m just going to have to tell you: We followed the guidance at all times, and we will continue to follow the guidance at all times.”
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab tells the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “The PM has been crystal clear in relation to any circumstances of events in Downing Street that the rules were complied with.” He dismisses the reports of events as “unsubstantiated, anonymous claims.” “We’re clear that the rules were followed,” he says.
The Crime and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse tells BBC Breakfast: “I don’t even know if an event took place. But if it did, that no rules were broken.” He adds: “The reassurances I have been given is that none of those rules were broken at Downing Street, that they complied with Covid regulations at the time.”
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson tells journalists, according to the Huffington Post: “As the press secretary set out at a number of occasions, when questioned about this originally, there was not a party and the Covid rules were followed at all times. […] It’s simply the case that guidance has been followed at all times. As I said, guidance has been followed at all times.” He says it is a “statement of fact” no rules were broken.
Cabinet minister Lord True tells peers in the upper house: “No. 10 has always followed, and continues to follow, Covid regulations at all times.”
Standing outside a prison, Johnson tells Sky News: “What I can tell you is that all the guidelines were observed, continue to be observed. […] I can tell you that the guidelines were followed at all times. […] I have satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times.”
In Parliament, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is asked if he, his officials, or special advisors, attended parties in Downing Street on November 27 or December 18 2020. He denies attending any parties. Sunak later received a questionnaire from the Metropolitan Police over his attendance of a birthday party for Johnson on June 19 2020.
On the evening of December 7, ITV published leaked video showing Downing Street staff joking about a party in 2020.
Johnson tells Parliament: “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.”
An inquiry into the alleged parties by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is announced.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis tells Parliament he has been told that Case has “indicated that he was not at any relevant gathering”. On December 17, Case steps aside from the investigation after POLITICO and the Independent report he attended an impromptu Christmas drinks gathering in December 2020. It is taken up by Sue Gray.
Chief Whip Mark Spencer tells his local BBC radio station: “I am assured that everybody in that building [Downing Street] played by the rules. […] I am told there weren’t any parties. […] I am told that they were not, you know, drinking alcohol and having parties while that was going on.”
Johnson tells broadcasters “I certainly broke no rules” after a photograph was published in the Sunday Mirror showing him with two colleagues at a virtual quiz in Downing Street in December 2020.
Contact this reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org if there is a government denial missed in the above list.