Former PM Boris Johnson denies intentionally misleading MPs and explains why he believed drinks and Secret Santa were not ‘party.’
This is what Boris Johnson said about accepting the assurance that the Christmas drinks event organised by this press office on 18 December 2020, involving wine and presents, was not actually a party.
“I asked Jack Doyle [his communications director] about the event, which he confirmed he had attended. He explained to me that the media team held a regular Friday evening team meeting, where they would discuss what had occurred during the week, and have a drink. As this was the last Friday of the year, there was also cheese and a Secret Santa. He reminded me that this had been a “nightmare” evening, as the country was about to go back into lockdown at a time when I was desperate to protect Christmas. He informed me that to call it a party was a great exaggeration. I asked him: “Was it within the rules?”. He told me: “It was within the rules.”
“I had no basis to disbelieve Jack’s account of the event. The assurances provided by Jack Doyle must also be understood within the context within which we were working. The staff at No 10 regularly were working around the clock. On 18 December 2020 the media department were working late into the night on the difficult messages we would be giving to the public: in particular, that we were going to have to go back into lockdown and, in many cases, families would be unable to spend Christmas together. They were also preparing for both a deal and no deal Brexit.
“It is in this context that I understood that members of the press office, who were gathered for work purposes in No. 10 leading the government’s response to Covid-19, had wine and cheese and exchanged gifts at their desk. This did not sound to me like a breach of the rules or the guidance, let alone a party. Based on the information with which I was provided, this sounded like it was firmly within the work exception, and consistent with the guidance. Drinking wine or exchanging gifts at work and whilst working did not, in my view, turn an otherwise lawful workplace gathering into an unlawful one.”
Also Alexander Horne has written an article for the Spectator assessing Boris Johnson’s submission to the privileges committee.
He says some of Johnson’s arguments about the process being unfair are “hyperbolic”.
“What do we learn from the 52-page dossier? Well, Johnson accepts that he misled parliament. His main contention seems to be that this was not deliberate and that he ‘could not have predicted the subsequent revelations that came to light following the investigations by Sue Gray and the Metropolitan Police’.
“Johnson and his advisers have also made some punchy arguments about the committee’s processes, focusing on a number of procedural issues. Johnson argues that the committee’s proceedings go beyond their remit and that it is potentially biased, complaining about the ‘partisan tone and content’ of the interim report.
“None of this seems hugely convincing and, based on my two decades working as a senior parliamentary lawyer, I would suggest that some of Johnson’s defences are simply hyperbolic.”