Downing Street party row: Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross demands Boris Johnson reveals ‘right now’ whether he attended lockdown drinks
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has demanded Boris Johnson “just answer the question” about whether he attended a “bring your own booze” event in Downing Street during the first COVID lockdown.
Speaking to Sky News, a “furious” Mr Ross called on the prime minister to “settle this right now” as to whether he was present at a gathering on 20 May 2020.
“If there’s nothing to hide here, if there’s no issue, then just answer the question,” Mr Ross said.
He also insisted Mr Johnson would have to quit as prime minister if he was found to have broken COVID regulations, or misled parliament over the “partygate” row.
PM’s backing for key aide who emailed drinks invite
Sky News understands both the prime minister and his wife Carrie were among around 40 people to attend a drinks event in the Downing Street garden at the height of the UK’s first national lockdown.
It has been revealed that one of Mr Johnson’s key aides, Martin Reynolds, emailed Number 10 staff on 20 May 2020 to invite them to “make the most of the lovely weather” with “some socially distanced drinks”.
At the time, Britons had only recently been allowed to meet with one person from another household outside as long as they remained two metres apart.
Mixing with multiple households was still banned.
Despite the emergence of the email, Mr Johnson’s official spokesman on Tuesday confirmed Mr Reynolds, the prime minister’s principal private secretary, “continues in his role” and retains the full confidence of the PM.
Snap poll reveals more than half of Britons believe PM should resign
A YouGov poll on Tuesday showed 56% of respondents believed the prime minister should resign over the fresh “partygate” allegations.
A total of 27% of the 5,931 people surveyed said Mr Johnson should remain in his role, while 17% said they don’t know.
Both Mr Johnson and Number 10 have refused to answer questions about the 20 May event because a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, is continuing her investigation into multiple allegations of coronavirus rule-breaking in Downing Street.
The prime minister also dodged the chance to appear in the House of Commons on Tuesday to answer an urgent question, tabled by Labour, about the 20 May allegations.
A junior government minister was instead sent to face a barrage of heckles from opposition benches.
Britons think Boris Johnson should resign as PM
Should resign: 56%
Should remain: 27%
Remain: 9%https://t.co/1qA7iEY3ZP pic.twitter.com/tK26xwcMKE
— YouGov (@YouGov) January 11, 2022
‘The PM can settle this right now,’ says Scottish Tory leader
Mr Ross, a Conservative MP who also sits in the Scottish Parliament, dismissed Number 10’s stance that it won’t comment on the row while Ms Gray’s inquiry continues.
He rubbished claims that Mr Johnson could risk “prejudging” the results of the investigation.
And the Scottish Tory leader demanded that Mr Johnson let the public know whether or not he attended the 20 May event immediately, rather than wait to face questions during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
“The prime minister can settle this right now, he can tell people if he was at the party or not,” he told Sky News.
“We don’t need to wait for Sue Gray’s investigation, we don’t need to wait for Prime Minister’s Questions.
“We just need the prime minister to answer that very simple question.”
Mr Ross said he understood the “fury, the anger and the rage” of members of the public following the revelation of the 20 May event.
“People are furious, I’m furious, people across Scotland and across the UK are furious,” he added.
“This email went out to over 100 people inviting them to a party when no one else was allowed to do that.”
Asked if he retained confidence in the prime minister, Mr Ross said: “If he’s followed the guidance that his government themselves set for everyone else, then yes.
“But if he’s not, if he has breached his own guidance, if he has not been truthful then that is an extremely important issue.
“And I’ve said previously, if the prime minister has misled parliament, then he must resign.”
The Scottish Tory leader added that Mr Johnson would have to quit as prime minister if he was found to have broken the law and should be “punished”.
He said it would be “utterly despicable” if Mr Johnson and others within Number 10 had breached COVID lockdown rules that were being followed by the public.
Fellow Conservative MP Johnny Mercer described the fresh “partygate” row as “humiliating” as he apologised to one of his constituents on Twitter.
“I’m sorry. It’s humiliating, and does not reflect the majority of my colleagues who *at least try* and lead by example,” he wrote.
Families of COVID victims write to PM to demand answers
Hannah Brady, a member of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, wrote to the prime minister on Tuesday to remind Mr Johnson that, when they met in September last year, he had “looked me in the eyes… and told me you had done everything you could” to save her father who died with coronavirus in May 2020.
“It is simply a matter of common decency and respect for not only us or the British people, but the office you hold as prime minister of the United Kingdom to tell us all whether you attended this flagrant breach of your government’s own rules,” she wrote.
“My dad didn’t have much in his life, but he had his integrity and a sense of right and wrong that he passed down to me.
“If you did wrong and attended this party, or knew of it happening, do the right thing and own up to it, before any investigation forces you too, not after.”
PM absent from Commons as junior minister left to face heckles
Michael Ellis, the paymaster general, earlier in the day faced a tempestuous Commons as he answered Labour’s urgent question about the 20 May event.
Amid relentless heckles and laughter from opposition MPs, the government minister said that Mr Johnson “takes this matter very seriously”.
“The prime minister is going nowhere,” he added. “He retains the confidence of the people of this country.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, who had asked for the prime minister himself to answer the urgent question, said Mr Johnson’s absence from the Commons “speaks volumes”.
“He can run but he can’t hide,” she told MPs.
During the session, DUP MP Jim Shannon broke down in tears as he told the Commons how his mother-in-law died alone due to COVID and called for the results of Ms Gray’s investigation to be released as soon as possible.
Police make contact with government over No 10 lockdown drinks claims
The Liberal Democrats have called for an emergency session of the powerful Commons’ liaison committee to be held in order to quiz the prime minister about the allegations.
The Metropolitan Police has confirmed it is “in contact with the Cabinet Office” following the reports of the Downing Street garden drinks party.
A spokesman for Scotland Yard said: “The Metropolitan Police Service is aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on May 20 2020 and is in contact with the Cabinet Office.”