Downing Street scrambled to defend Boris Johnson last night after photos emerged of him toasting at a leaved stop.
Leaked images show the Prime Minister appearing to be congratulating outgoing Communications Director Lee Cain at a time when social gatherings are banned.
A Tory source pointed the finger at Dominic Cummings, who has repeatedly called for ‘regime change’ in issue 10. They said: ‘This has Dom’s fingerprints on it.’
The images were leaked to ITV News hours after a former aide to the Prime Minister said more photos of the events at Number 10 would appear to coincide with the publication – possibly as early as today – of Miss Gray’s Partygate report. A Government source last night said the ‘brief’ gathering was not meant to be like a party.
They added: ‘He’s wearing a vest, he has [ministerial] red box to him – he was at work – he just dropped in to say goodbye to a long-serving employee like any boss. It’s not a party. ‘
Mr Johnson is said to have given a speech thanking Mr Cain and stayed at the event for 10 to 15 minutes before heading back to his apartment.
Mr Johnson can be seen toasting in the pictures that emerged this evening
Images released by ITV News show the Prime Minister with a glass in his hand toasting with around eight others in the scene
Mr Johnson appears to be giving a speech in front of a room full of staff in pictures from November 2020
Sources say Whitehall’s chief ethics officer Sue Gray and the Metropolitan Police have reviewed ‘similar’ photographs of the event. The prime minister was not fined for that, but others are understood to have been told fixed penalties for attending, sparking calls last night for police to review the incident.
Although allies insist there was no party taking place, Mr Johnson was photographed next to a table containing several opened bottles of wine.
The Prime Minister had previously told Parliament that no rules had been broken at the event on 13 November 2020, the day Mr Cummings was dropped from the No 10 spot after losing a power struggle with Carrie Johnson’s wife. Mr. Cain quit his job the same day. Police also investigated a second gathering that evening, but again Mr Johnson was not charged.
Asked in January whether a party would take place that day, Mr Johnson told MPs: ‘No – but I’m sure whatever happens, guidance has been followed and the rules are followed at all times.’
The Commons Privilege Committee is set to probe whether Mr Johnson intentionally misled Parliament – for which he could be suspended from the council.
A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The Cabinet Office and Met Police have had access to all information relevant to their investigation, including photographs. The Met has concluded their investigation and Sue Gray will release her report in the coming days, at which point the Prime Minister will address Parliament in full. ‘
But Labor said the images left ‘no doubt’ that Mr Johnson had ‘lie’ before Parliament. Deputy leader Angela Rayner – who is being investigated by police for her role in Sir Keir Starmer’s infamous Beergate affair in Durham – said: ‘While the British public has made huge sacrifices, Boris Johnson has violated breaking the law.’
No 10 yesterday attempted to defuse tensions with Ms Gray (L) ahead of the release of her report by stressing that Mr Johnson (R) did not believe she was ‘playing politics’ with the issue , as his allies claimed over the weekend.
The Liberal Democrats called on the Independent Office on Police Conduct to investigate why the Met removed the Chancellor while penalizing others at the same event.
Tory Scotland leader Douglas Ross, who previously withdrew his call for the Prime Minister to step down, said: ‘To most, these pictures seem unwarranted and false.’
Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said the position of Prime Minister was ‘irrevocable’, adding: ‘Obviously there was a party. He distracts us from the shipping box. And, honored, there is an answer. ‘
But Tory MP Peter Bone said of the image: ‘I don’t think it looks like that [a party] at all.’
No 10 yesterday tried to defuse tensions with Miss Gray ahead of the release of her report by stressing that Mr Johnson did not believe she was ‘playing politics’ with the issue, as allies of he announced at the weekend. The Prime Minister’s spokesman also said the idea of a so-called secret meeting between Mr Johnson and Ms Gray this month originated in Number 10.