No 10 defends Johnson lockdown trip as Cummings says PM knew of party

PM’s former adviser says he would ‘swear under oath’ that Johnson was advised to cancel party

Downing Street has confirmed that British prime minister Boris Johnson commuted from his country residence at Chequers during March 2020 when coronavirus guidance said people should avoid all non-essential travel.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said the prime minister acted in accordance with the guidance because his wife Carrie, who was pregnant, was in Chequers.

"At the time as you know, Mrs Johnson was heavily pregnant, in a vulnerable category, and advised to minimise social contacts. So in line with clinical guidance and to minimise the risk to her, they were based at Chequers during that period, with the prime minister commuting to Downing Street to work," he said.

The spokesman repeatedly denied an assertion by Sunday Times columnist Dominic Lawson that the prime minister ignored warnings in advance of a party in the Downing Street garden on May 20th, 2020. Mr Johnson told the House of Commons last week that when he went to the party, he believed it was a work event.

Dominic Cummings, the prime minister's former senior adviser, said on Monday evening that he would "swear under oath" that Mr Johnson was advised to cancel the party. Mr Cummings said in his Substack blog that when Martin Reynolds, the prime minister's principal private secretary (PPS), sent an email inviting about 100 Downing Street staff to the party, a "very senior official" replied saying it broke the rules.

“The PPS went to the official’s office where they discussed it. The PPS declined to withdraw the invite. I told the PPS the invite broke the rules. He said: so long as it’s socially distanced I think it’s OK, I’ll check with the PM if he’s happy for it to go ahead,” Mr Cummings said.

“I said to the PM something like: Martin’s invited the building to a drinks party, this is what I’m talking about, you’ve got to grip this madhouse. The PM waved it aside.”

Diversions

Mr Johnson sought to move attention away from the controversy over Downing Street parties on Monday with announcements on two issues important to many Conservatives – migrant boats crossing the Channel and the BBC licence fee.

The government briefed that the Royal Navy would take charge of the operation to stop refugees arriving in Britain in small boats. But there were no details about how the operation would change or why the Navy would be more successful than border police in reducing the number of people making the crossing.

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries said the BBC licence fee would be frozen for the next two years and would then rise in line with inflation for the four years after that. She told MPs that there should be a debate on the future of the licence fee before the BBC's charter is due to be renewed in 2027.

“In the last few months, I’ve made it clear that the BBC needs to address issues around impartiality and groupthink,” she said.

“We need a BBC that is forward-looking and ready to meet the challenges of modern broadcasting, a BBC that can continue to engage the wider public and that commands the support of the UK, not just the London bubble.”