‘Demonstrably untrue’: Boris Johnson dismisses ex-PM’s claims that partygate damaged UK’s reputation

Politics

Former prime minister Sir John Major has launched a stinging attack on Boris Johnson, accusing him of asking the public to “believe the unbelievable” over lockdown parties in Downing Street.

In an apparent call-to-action for MPs to move against Mr Johnson, he said “deliberate lies to parliament have been fatal to political careers – and must always be so”.

“The lack of trust in the elected portion of our democracy cannot be brushed aside. Parliament has a duty to correct this.

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“If it does not, and trust is lost at home, our politics is broken.”

The 'men in grey suits' are being urged to tell Johnson to quit Pic: AP
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Boris Johnson’s premiership is under pressure amid the ongoing ‘partygate’ scandal

Ex-Tory PM accuses Johnson of breaking lockdown rules

Speaking at an event at the Institute for Government, Sir John accused the prime minister and his officials of breaking lockdown rules over parties held in Downing Street and across Whitehall – which are currently subject to a Metropolitan Police probe.

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Speaking to reporters at a news briefing in Brussels earlier, Mr Johnson, who is coming under pressure to quit, said he was looking forward to Scotland Yard’s investigation into 12 gatherings being completed.

Sir John, who was in office from 1990 to 1997, said: “At Number 10, the prime minister and officials broke lockdown laws. Brazen excuses were dreamed up.

“Day after day the public was asked to believe the unbelievable. Ministers were sent out to defend the indefensible – making themselves look gullible or foolish.

“Collectively, this has made the government look distinctly shifty, which has consequences that go far beyond political unpopularity.”

Former prime minister Sir John Major during his keynote speech at the Institute for Government, central London, on the issue of trust and standards in a democracy. Picture date: Thursday February 10, 2022.
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Sir John Major was Conservative PM from 1990 to 1997

Sir John: Govt behaviour ‘corrosive’

Describing the behaviour of politicians in government as “corrosive”, he said: “Trust in politics is at a low ebb, eroded by foolish behaviour, leaving a sense of unease about how our politics is being conducted.

“Too often, ministers have been evasive, and the truth has been optional.

“When ministers respond to legitimate questions with pre-prepared soundbites, or half-truths, or misdirection, or wild exaggeration, then respect for government and politics dies a little more.

“Misleading replies to questions invite disillusion. Outright lies breed contempt.”

It is not the first time Sir John has criticised Mr Johnson. He has been a vocal critic of Brexit, the prorogation of parliament and most recently the government’s handling of the Owen Patterson lobbying scandal.

He previously called the government “politically corrupt” over its treatment of the House of Commons.”

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Police are reviewing a decision not to investigate a Christmas quiz in Number 10, after a picture of Boris Johnson and alcohol emerged.

PM facing calls to resign over partygate scandal

In his explosive intervention, Sir John continued: “The prime minister and our present government not only challenge the law, but also seem to believe that they, and they alone, need not obey the rules, traditions, conventions – call them what you will – of public life.

“The charge that there is one law for the government, and one for everyone else is politically deadly – and it has struck home.”

Opposition parties and some of Mr Johnson’s own Conservative MPs have called for the prime minister to resign over the Downing Street ‘partygate’ scandal.

If 54 Conservative MPs submit letters of no confidence in the prime minister to the head of the 1922 group of backbench Tory MPs Sir Graham Brady, a vote on whether he should continue as leader will be held.

On Wednesday evening, Scotland Yard revealed officers working on their ongoing investigation into 12 lockdown-busting events held in Downing Street and across Whitehall – which has been named Operation Hillman – would this week start asking for the accounts of more than 50 attendees.

New photo of PM at Christmas quiz emerges

The news came just hours after a fresh photo emerged of Mr Johnson at a Christmas quiz in Number 10 alongside a bottle of alcohol, a packet of crisps and two people wearing tinsel and a Santa hat.

The Metropolitan Police is now rethinking its assessment of that event following the publication of the image.

At the time of the event, on 15 December 2020, London was under Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions.

This banned any social mixing indoors between people from different households.

Scotland Yard said in a statement: “The Metropolitan Police service previously assessed this event and determined that on the basis of the evidence available at that time, it did not meet the threshold for criminal investigation.

“That assessment is now being reviewed.”

The Met police added that officers will contact people involved in the events by the end of the week and those contacted will initially fill out a questionnaire.

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Labour’s shadow minister for peace and disarmament tells MPs a new picture shows Boris Johnson at another Downing Street

Reports say PM will be questioned by Met Police

The Times cited policing sources as saying Mr Johnson himself was likely to be among those questioned.

Asked about the matter at a news briefing in Brussels on Thursday, the prime minister said: “”That process must be completed and I am looking forward to it being completed.”

The developments come after the PM’s new Commons leader claimed “real people” do not care about the partygate row.

Mark Spencer told BBC Radio Nottingham that “normal people” were more worried about the cost of living and the NHS backlog.

But Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi contradicted this in an interview with Sky News.

Taking part in a Q&A with Kay Burley, he said: “There is no doubt that the stories around parties have cut through, people are rightly angry.”

Prior to the Met Police probe, an investigation into gatherings held in Westminster was carried out by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

Chief Whip Mark Spencer in Downing Street, London. The Prime Minister is set to face further questions over a police investigation into partygate as No 10 braces for the submission of Sue Gray's report into possible lockdown breaches. Picture date: Wednesday January 26, 2022.
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New Commons Leader Mark Spencer said “normal people” are not interested in the partygate scandal

Ms Gray has handed more than 300 images and more than 500 pages of information to Scotland Yard.

She has yet to publish her full findings due to the ongoing police investigation.

There has been a recent exodus of senior advisers from Number 10 amid the partygate allegations.

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