Partygate: What happened at Covid rule-breaking parties as Boris Johnson to give evidence this week

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Former prime minister Boris Johnson is set to give evidence this week on whether he misled parliament about Covid-19 rule-breaking parties.

Boris Johnson will give evidence this week (March 22) on whether he misled parliament about the Covid rule-breaking parties, dubbed the ‘Partygate’ scandal. The former prime minister will face a televised evidence session in front of the Commons Privileges Committee, made up of seven MPs, between 2pm and 7pm on Wednesday.

After the session, the committee will publish its final verdict on whether the former PM misled parliament. However, its initial update earlier this month stated Mr Johnson may have misled parliament multiple times, something the former PM denies.

The session will see Mr Johnson grilled by four Conservative MPs, two Labour and one SNP, who will meet between 1.30pm and 2pm before the hearing starts. The hearing will be a key chance for Mr Johnson to persuade the cross-party MPs that he did not mislead MPs in December 2021.

This would include when Mr Johnson told parliament he had "been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken".

The BBC state that sources close to the former PM say he will publish a "compelling dossier" that will provide arguments and evidence that he did not knowingly mislead parliament. If Mr Johnson fails to persuade the committee that he did not mislead parliament and is found guilty, he could be suspended from the Commons and even face a recall petition, which would trigger a by-election, if the suspension is for more than 10 days.

But what is Partygate and what happened in the Sue Gray report? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is the Partygate scandal?

Partygate is a political scandal that took place in the UK about parties and other gatherings of government employees and Conservative Party staff held during the COVID-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2021. During this period of time, public health restrictions prohibited most gatherings and the scandal was one of the issues which led Mr Johnson to resign as PM in July 2022.

Some of the events that took place during lockdown restrictions included Mr Johnson’s 56th birthday party, a cheese and wine gathering in the Downing Street garden and a ‘bring your own booze’ party. Mr Johnson’s birthday party saw Downing Street staff gather in the Cabinet Room in what was reportedly a surprise event for the then prime minister organised by his wife, Carrie Johnson.

A Downing Street Christmas party was also held the evening before Mr Johnson cancelled Christmas by introducing ‘Tier 4’ Lockdown restrictions across London and south-east England. The new restrictions prevented people from mixing with other households and forced non-essential shops to close until the end of December 2020.

Boris Johnson will give evidence this week on whether he misled parliament during the Partygate scandalBoris Johnson will give evidence this week on whether he misled parliament during the Partygate scandal
Boris Johnson will give evidence this week on whether he misled parliament during the Partygate scandal | Getty Images

Mr Johnson initially denied any wrongdoing after the parties were exposed in November 2021 due to a video being leaked of Downing Street press officials joking about the Christmas party at a mock press conference.

At PMQ’s on December 8, 2021, Mr Johnson apologised for the “offence (the video) has caused” and “the impression it gives”. However, he added he has been “repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.

Downing Street later apologised to the Queen after details emerged of staff partying into the early hours before Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021.

A spokesperson for the PM said it was "deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning".

What happened in the Sue Gray report?

Former civil servant Sue Gray took on an investigation, dubbed the Sue Gray report, into allegations of coronavirus rule-breaking at 10 Downing Street in December 2021. In the initial report, Ms Gray found there had been “failures of leadership and judgement" under Mr Johnson’s watch.

The Metropolitan Police then issued its first batch of rule-breaking fines in March 2021, proving rules had been broken inside Number 10 and that the PM had thus misled Parliament. However, Mr Johnson was not fined until a few weeks later.

It was then decided Mr Johnson would face a third partygate probe after MPs agreed the Privileges Committee should investigate whether he misled parliament about the Downing Street parties.

The full conclusion of the Sue Gray report was released in May 2022 and the 37-page document featured a series of damning revelations about the parties and gatherings that went on during lockdown. She concluded that many of the events should not have taken place, there was a lack of respect towards cleaning and security staff and there was no excuse for the behaviour displayed at the parties and gatherings.

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