Boris Johnson has denied lying to parliament about a gathering in No 10’s garden during the first lockdown despite Dominic Cummings saying he would swear on oath that he warned the prime minister it would be a rule-breaking drinks party.
In a major interview, Johnson said he had told the Whitehall inquiry into the allegations that to the “best of my recollection” ahead of the 20 May 2020 event “nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules”.
The prime minister said that he does “humbly apologise to people for misjudgments that were made” after facing calls to resign over the partygate affair, including from six Tory MPs.
He made his first public appearance after reducing his contacts from when No 10 said a family member tested positive for Covid-19 last week, as chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to give the prime minister his unequivocal backing. (See 12.53pm.)
Asked if he had lied to parliament over the parties during a visit to a north London hospital, Johnson said: “No. I want to begin by repeating my apologies to everybody for the misjudgments that I’ve made, that we may have made in No 10 and beyond, whether in Downing Street or throughout the pandemic.
“Nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules, that the event in question was something that … was not a work event, and as I said in the House of Commons when I went out into that garden I thought that I was attending a work event.”
Johnson said he “could not imagine why on earth it would have gone ahead, or why it would’ve been allowed to go ahead” if he had been told it was not a “work event”.
“I do humbly apologise to people for misjudgments that were made but that is the very, very best of my recollection about this event, that’s what I’ve said to the inquiry,” he said.
Boris Johnson clearly knows it’s the end of the road
Labour says it’s ‘end of the road’ for PM and that he didn’t need anyone to tell him party was against rules
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has responded to the Sky interview by saying it is “the end of the road” for Boris Johnson.
She points out that, although Johnson may be saying no one told him specifically the party was against the rules (see 1.15pm), they should not have had to – because it should have been obvious. She says:
Boris Johnson clearly knows it’s the end of the road.
He’s the prime minister, he set the rules, he didn’t need anyone to tell him that the party he attended broke them.
If he had any respect for the British public, he would do the decent thing and resign.
Rayner has identified a crucial feature of Johnson’s denial; that it was tightly defined, which implies he is not contesting broader aspects of the case against him.
For example, Johnson may have been told that holding the party was unwise, without someone saying explicitly it was against Covid regulations. Dominic Cummings and the other official or officials who raised concerns may not have felt the need to spell this out – because they thought it was so obvious.