Boris Johnson denies he lied to parliament over lockdown party

British PM rejects Cummings claim that he knew Downing Street event was against rules

Boris Johnson has denied a claim by former adviser Dominic Cummings that he lied to parliament about a party in Downing Street in May 2020. Mr Cummings said this week that he would swear under oath that the prime minister had been warned that the "bring your own booze" party for dozens of staff in the garden could break lockdown rules.

But Mr Johnson said on Tuesday that he was telling the truth last week when he told the House of Commons that he believed when he went to the party that it had been a work event.

"I'm saying categorically that nobody told me, nobody said this was something that was against the rules, doing something that wasn't a work event because frankly, I can't imagine why it would have gone ahead, or it would have been allowed to go ahead if it was against the rules," he told Beth Rigby from Sky News in a pooled broadcast interview.

“My memory is going out into the garden for about 25 minutes, which I implicitly thought was a work event, and talking to staff, thanking staff. I then went back to my office and continued my work. I carry full responsibility for what took place, nobody said to me ‘this is an event that’s against the rules, in breach of what we’re asking everybody else to do’.”


Senior civil servant Sue Gray is investigating up to 15 gatherings in Downing Street and other government offices that may have broken lockdown rules. Six Conservative MPs have already called on Mr Johnson to resign and many others have said they are reserving judgment until Ms Gray reports, probably later this week or early next week.

Licence fee

Mr Johnson sought to deflect attention from the controversy this week with a series of announcements on the BBC licence fee, migrant boats crossing the Channel and increased powers for magistrates. But Mr Cummings’s claim that the prime minister lied about the May 2020 party has increased the pressure because the ministerial code says that ministers who knowingly mislead parliament should resign.

Justice secretary and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab and chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak both said on Tuesday that the code "is clear on these matters". Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said it did not matter whether Mr Johnson was warned that the party broke the rules because it was obvious that it did.

“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,” she said.

In his broadcast interview on Tuesday, Mr Johnson appeared to be distressed when he was asked about two parties in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last year.

“I deeply and bitterly regret that happened, I can only renew my apology to Her Majesty and to apologise for misjudgements made and for which I take full responsibility,” he said.

The controversy has hit the Conservatives’ popularity and they are trailing Labour in the polls by double digits. YouGov’s latest poll found that almost two out of three voters think Mr Johnson should resign.

To trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister’s leadership, at least 54 Conservative MPs must write to the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers. If Mr Johnson were to lose a confidence vote, his successor would be chosen in a two-stage process, with MPs selecting two candidates to go to a run-off before the entire membership of the party.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times