Johnson did not ‘deliberately’ lie to MPs over ‘partygate’, says Raab

The Deputy Prime Minister said the law was broken during lockdown parties in Downing St but the PM had not been aware of the ‘infractions’.

30 March 2022

Lockdown parties in Downing Street did break the law, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has admitted although he denied Boris Johnson had misled Parliament over the issue.

During a round of broadcast interviews, Mr Raab accepted the fact that 20 fixed penalty notices were being issued by the Metropolitan Police meant Covid regulations had been breached – something No 10 repeatedly refused to do on Tuesday.

However, he insisted the Prime Minister had not been aware of the “infractions” when he repeatedly told MPs there had not been any breach of the rules.

Mr Johnson had been speaking to the best of his knowledge at the time, Mr Raab said, and had not deliberately lied – even though he had been at some of the events which were under investigation.

“I think it is rather different to say that he lied, which suggests that he was deliberately misleading. The PM has not to date been issued with a fixed penalty notice,” Mr Raab told BBC Breakfast.

“Clearly we had the investigations because of the claims, the assertions that were made, which it was right to follow up, and it is clear there were breaches of the law.

“But to jump from that to say the Prime Minister deliberately misled Parliament rather than answering to the best of his ability is just not right.”

Mr Johnson is likely to face a difficult session of Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday and will then endure a further grilling from senior MPs at the Liaison Committee later in the afternoon.

The Prime Minister and his allies had an indication of public anger about the situation at a party for Tory MPs in London on Tuesday night where bereaved relatives of Covid-19 victims heckled senior Conservatives.

Dozens of grief-stricken relatives who lost loved ones during the pandemic lined up outside the entrance of the Park Plaza hotel, across Westminster Bridge from the House of Commons, to boo guests as they arrived.

The fixed penalty notices being issued by the Met relate to a series of around a dozen events in Downing Street and Whitehall over the course of 2020 and 2021 – including one in the Prime Minister’s flat.

Although Mr Johnson is not thought to be among the first group to be hit with fines, the Met have indicated that they expect to issue more fixed penalty notices as their investigations continue.

Downing Street partygate
Jacob Rees-Mogg leaves the Park Plaza Hotel (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Raab, who is also the Justice Secretary, however refused to be drawn on whether Mr Johnson would have to step down if he did receive one.

“I am not going to comment on hypothetical questions or speculate on an ongoing police investigation,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

He also said the public would not necessarily be told if Mr Johnsons’ wife, Carrie, was issued with a fixed penalty notice.

“She is not a minister or a politician. The Metropolitan Police do not publish the identities of people subject to fixed penalty notices,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“I don’t think it is right to have double standards.”

However, Mr Raab said that other ministers would have to disclose it if they were fined.

“I think that is inevitably the case,” he said.

Mr Johnson came under intense pressure to quit when the initial partygate disclosures broke last year, but in recent weeks the war in Ukraine has seen Tory MPs rally round their leader.

Prominent critic Andrew Bridgen told the PA news agency that a “day of reckoning” may come in regard to the partygate scandal, but not at this moment in time.

Mr Bridgen, who has withdrawn the letter of no confidence in the PM that he submitted to the Tory 1922 Committee, said he would back Mr Johnson if there was a vote on his future “otherwise we’d be playing into the hands of Mr (Vladimir) Putin”.

While Mr Johnson may be safe from being ousted by Tory critics for the moment, he still faces an uncertain future if the Met does conclude he personally broke the law.

A cessation of hostilities in Ukraine, however unlikely that may appear, could remove one of the reasons for Conservatives to offer support to Mr Johnson, while a poor showing in May’s local elections would heap further pressure on him.

The cost-of-living crisis, set to be exacerbated by rising energy bills and the national insurance hike in April, will also add to the Prime Minister’s difficulties.

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