UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday faced renewed accusations of lying, after photos emerged of him drinking at a Downing Street gathering during lockdown in 2020.
The revelations came as a senior civil servant was expected to publish her long-awaited full report into the “Partygate” scandal, despite allegations that Johnson was trying to have it dropped.
A slew of revelations earlier this year about lockdown-breaking parties caused widespread political and public anger and put Johnson’s position in jeopardy.
But the heat was taken out of a potential mutiny from his own MPs by the war in Ukraine and his hawkish support for President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The photos published late on Monday by ITV News were taken during a leaving event for Johnson’s communications director Lee Cain on November 13, 2020, days after the government ordered a second Covid lockdown and banned households from mixing.
Johnson can be seen raising a glass and chatting with several people around a table with bottles of wine and food.
Police have investigated the leaving event as part of their probe into “Partygate” and fined one person — but not Johnson.
When he was asked in parliament last December about the gathering, the prime minister insisted there had been no party on that date and that no rules had been broken.
The police did fine Johnson over a surprise birthday party he attended at Downing Street in June 2020 but he has not been fined for any other event.
In total, they issued more than 100 fines related to multiple gatherings in an around the prime minister’s residence and place of work.
The BBC’s Panorama programme on Tuesday quoted people who attended Cain’s leaving party as saying it developed into “about 30 people, if not more, in a room. Everyone was stood shoulder to shoulder, some people (sitting) on each other’s laps.”
The event was on a Friday, when the prime minister press office organised regular “WTF” (“Wine-Time Friday”) drinks starting at four o’clock in the afternoon, some of the people who attended told the BBC.
A Downing Street security guard was mocked when he tried to stop a party in full flow, they said.
“People made fun of him because he was so worked up that this party was happening and it shouldn’t be happening.”
The deputy leader of the main opposition Labour party, Angela Rayner, said it was “astonishing” that Johnson was not fined for the November gathering.
She told ITV News that it looked “pretty clear” the gathering had been a party, not a work event. She said it was “pretty shocking” Johnson had not been fined for it.
“He’s tried to lie to the British public and he’s tried to lie to parliament,” Rayner said.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps sought to defend Johnson on Tuesday, saying the new pictures showed the prime minister was “clearly not” partying.
“It looks to me he was asked to go and thank a member of staff who was leaving, raises a glass to them and I imagine comes in and out pretty quick, which is presumably why the police have not issued a fixed-penalty notice (fine) to the prime minister,” Shapps told BBC radio.
In a separate development, the Times newspaper reported on Tuesday that Johnson had put pressure on civil servant Sue Gray to drop her much-anticipated report into “Partygate”.
Sky News quoted sources as saying Johnson had questioned what more would be left to say in Gray’s report after the police concluded their work.
Rayner joined a chorus of opposition voices calling for the Gray report to be published “as soon as possible”.
“The full report — and all the evidence — must be published without delay,” she tweeted.
The Metropolitan Police said on Thursday they had completed their “Partygate” probe, issuing a total of 126 fines.
Those fined include Johnson, his wife Carrie and finance minister Rishi Sunak.
Johnson’s fine — the first for a sitting British prime minister — prompted calls for him to resign or be forced out.
He has apologised for the breach of Covid regulations but has refused to quit.
He is also facing an investigation by a parliamentary committee into his denials of lockdown lawbreaking to the House of Commons.