Five questions Boris Johnson will face in partygate quiz in just hours – and how he plans to bat them off

Alamy Live News. 2PGC3TG London, England, UK. 22nd Mar, 2023. Former UK Prime Minister BORIS JOHNSON is seen returning home after morning run as he gets ready to appear before House of Commons Privileges Committee over lockdown breaching parties in Downing Street. (Credit Image: ¿ Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire) EDITORIAL USAGE ONLY! Not for Commercial USAGE! This is an Alamy Live News image and may not be part of your current Alamy deal . If you are unsure, please contact our sales team to check.

BORIS Johnson will be grilled over whether he deliberately lied about partygate at a bombshell hearing TODAY.

The ex-PM is set to give evidence to the Privileges Committee in a marathon four hour showdown in Parliament.

Boris Johnson out for a run near his London home this morning ahead of his Privileges Committee appearance

Boris Johnson at a No10 lockdown gathering on 19 June 2020

Another Downing Street lockdown party, this time on 13 November 2020

Kicking off at 2pm, he’ll try and prove that he didn’t realise it was a breach of government rules to attend boozy Downing Street gatherings during the pandemic.

Yesterday, Boris admitted he DID mislead MPs about No.10 parties – but insisted he did so unknowingly and in “good faith”.

In a 52-page defence dossier submitted to the Privileges Committee, the ex-PM argued the only person calling him a deliberate liar is his old right-hand-man turned nemesis, Dominic Cummings.

And he branded accusations from MPs that he must have known he was breaking lockdown rules as “absurd”.

But in evidence released this morning, Boris’ former communications chief Lee Cain said it would’ve been “highly unusual” of him not to raise alarms about the gatherings.

Mr Cain admitted he spoke to Mr Cummings about concerns over a proposed “bring your own booze” garden party.

He wrote: “I do not recall if I personally had a conversation with the PM about the garden party but it would have been highly unusual for me not to have raised a potentially serious communications risk with the PM directly – especially having raised it with his private secretary and the matter remaining unresolved.”

Discussing the same event, Boris said: “I would encourage people into the garden for the pandemic. I felt it would be wrong to stop people going into the garden.

“It is democratic and conducive to staff wellbeing – where to go
to draw the line?”

Meanwhile, former No.10 chief Martin Reynolds told the committee he regrets the BYOB event.

In written evidence he said: “With the benefit of hindsight, the language used was totally inappropriate and gave a misleading impression of the nature of the event.

“It was an event held because staff needed a morale boost after an extremely difficult period when all sorts of tensions had begun to surface and I hoped that being thanked by the PM and talking to each other might strengthen their sense of being part of one team.”

Here are five questions Boris is set to be quizzed on today:

Why did you say the guidance was followed “at all times” despite advice not to?

On December 8, 2021, Mr Johnson told the Commons that “the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”. 

But this was despite one of his top officials advising the then PM not to use the phrase “at all times.”

No10 Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds claims he warned it was not “realistic” to assert this and they agreed to delete the line.
In his written evidence Mr Johnson insists he does “not recall this conversation” and believes Mr Reynolds was simply pointing out it was hard to maintain social distancing in No10.

Surely you knew social distancing wasn’t being followed?

Mr Johnson will likely be quizzed on how on earth he was unaware of breaches in the place he lived and worked.

Evidence from officials claim the then PM routinely walked No10 alone regularly and regularly pop into see staff.

In Mr Johnson’s evidence though he argues that breaking the two-metre rule was allowed if it was not “possible” to keep apart.

He argues: “No10 is an old cramped London townhouse, with many bottlenecks and many small rooms.”
He also insists staff went to great lengths to limit the spread of the virus with measures like perspex screens.

Were you warned about parties before they took place?

One of the central questions is whether Mr Johnson was warned about possible breaches before parties took place.

Dominic Cummings claimed he told the then PM the infamous May 2020 “BYOB” garden party “seemed to be against the rules and should not happen”. 

Mr Johnson – who attended the gathering – denies this and slammed his ex top aide as embittered who “cannot be treated as a credible witness”.
Comms chief Lee Cain also raised concerns about the gathering, but it is unclear if his qualms were fed back to Mr Johnson. 

Why did you only correct the record after Sue Gray’s report?

The Privileges Committee will almost certainly ask why Mr Johnson only corrected the record after Sue Gray’s damning report.

He did not apologise to MPs for misleading them until May 2022 after it became clear parties had occurred.
Mr Johnson will likely argue – as he did at the time – it would not have been appropriate to comment while the Gray report and Met Police probe continued.

Did you not admit there were parties?

WhatsApp exchanges reveal Mr Johnson referred explicitly to “parties” despite him going on to insist “there was no party”. 

In December 2021 he asked then Comms chief Jack Doyle: “is there a way we can get the truth about this party out there”?
In his submission Mr Johnson insists he used the word as “shorthand” as it was then being referred to as such in the media. 

The 2pm Showdown

If the seven member committee find him guilty, BoJo faces being suspended from the House and even facing a by-election in his Uxbridge seat.

But Boris said last night: “I look forward very much to the committee session.

“I believe the evidence conclusively shows that I did not knowingly or recklessly mislead Parliament.

“The committee has produced not a shred of evidence to show that I have.”

In the bombshell dossier, the former PM wrote: “There is no evidence at all that supports the allegations.

“The only exception is the assertions of the discredited Dominic Cummings, which are not supported by any documentation.”

Mr Cummings wrote on his blog yesterday: “I’ll watch and post thoughts on how he tries to lie his way to safety.”

Mr Johnson insists he never realised a multitude of boozy gatherings in No 10 breached lockdown rules — and says he would never have invited a photographer to snap them if he thought they were against the law.

In his legal defence he argued there is a complete lack of written and oral evidence from those who attended the parties that they understood rules were being broken.

And the ex-PM said no aides or staff warned him of breaches either.

He also slammed the idea that he knew he was breaking rules during a gathering in the Cabinet Room on his birthday.

Police fined him and current PM Rishi Sunak for attending the event, where a cake and snacks were present.

But Mr Johnson said: “It never occurred to me then or at any time prior to the police issuing the fixed penalty notice, that the event was not in compliance with the rules or the guidance.

“I was in the Cabinet Room for a work meeting and was joined by a small gathering of people, all of whom lived or were working in the building.

“We had a sandwich lunch together and they wished me Happy Birthday. I was not told in advance that this would happen. No cake was eaten, and no one even sang Happy Birthday.”