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A PM who lied to Parliament would normally quit – Raab

Dominic Raab

PA Media

Dominic Raab has said a prime minister found to have deliberately lied to Parliament would “normally” resign.

The comments come after the PM’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings accused Boris Johnson of misleading MPs last week over a drinks party held in the Downing Street garden during lockdown.

But Mr Raab, the deputy PM, said his leader had “made clear” he had not known about the event in advance.

He added that he believed Mr Johnson would remain in power “for many years”.

In his blog, Mr Cummings, who was still working in Downing Street at the time of the drinks party, on 20 May 2020, said the prime minister had been forewarned of it and told that it would break Covid guidelines.

He added that he had tried to persuade Mr Johnson to stop the gathering but he had “waved it aside”.

Two other former Downing Street officials told the BBC they remembered Mr Cummings telling them that day he had warned the prime minister not to go ahead.

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Mr Cummings’s blog contradicts the account the prime minister gave to Parliament last week, in which he said he had not been notified in advance of the party, attended by around 30 people and to which around 100 people were invited.

The PM also said he had been working in No 10 when the drinks happened and had joined staff for 25 minutes to thank them for their efforts during the pandemic.

Mr Raab told BBC Breakfast that Mr Cummings’s and Mr Johnson’s accounts were “irreconcilable” but the prime minister and No 10 had “made clear” he thought the drinks to be a work event.

Asked whether any minister who lied to the House of Commons and failed to correct their remarks should resign, he replied: “Yes.”

And asked later on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether a prime minister who had been found to have lied to Parliament should quit, he said: “He would normally, if it’s not corrected, if it’s lying, and deliberate… if it’s not corrected immediately, it would normally, under the ministerial code and the governance around Parliament, be a resigning matter.

“That is the principle. We uphold the highest standards of principles in public life. That is critically important.”

The ministerial code, governing standards of behaviour in office, states: “It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.

“Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the prime minister.”

Mr Raab said he did not want to pre-judge an inquiry being carried out by senior civil servant Sue Gray into the drinks event and other gatherings on government premises under Covid restrictions, but added: “I think the ministerial code should be followed at all time.”Asked about how safe Mr Johnson was as leader, Mr Raab replied: “I’m confident he will carry on for many years and into the next election.”

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Downing Street party row

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  • LAURA KUENSSBERG: No 10 can’t control what happens next in party row
  • REALITY CHECK: The Covid rules when Downing Street parties were held
  • PROFILE: What is Sue Gray investigating?
  • TIMELINE: Alleged government lockdown gatherings

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Meanwhile, health minister Maria Caulfield, who worked as a nurse during the earlier stages of the pandemic, has complained on her website of a “culture in Number 10 where even if rules were not technically broken, the spirit of the rules were”.

Prior to Mr Cummings’s claims, six Conservative MPs had declared no confidence in the prime minister, while Labour, the Liberal Democrats and SNP are urging him to resign.

Fifty-four Tory MPs must write letters calling for the PM to go in order to trigger a party leadership contest.

No 10 said it was “untrue” to say the prime minister had been “warned about the [drinks] event”, with a spokesman adding: “As he said earlier this week, he believed implicitly that this was a work event. He has apologised to the House and is committed to making a further statement once the investigation concludes.”

But Mr Cummings wrote on his blog that Mr Johnson “knew he was at a drinks party cos he was told it was a drinks party and it was actually a drinks party”.

He added further detail about his account of the discussions leading up to the party on 20 May and said it showed “the PM lied to Parliament about parties”.

Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson leaving from the rear of Downing Street in 2019

PA Media

He alleged that, on 20 May 2020, Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary (PPS), Martin Reynolds, had sent out an email inviting staff to “socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden”, but “a very senior official replied by email saying the invite broke the rules”.

“The PPS went to the official’s office where they discussed it. The PPS declined to withdraw the invite. I told the PPS the invite broke the rules.”

After discussing it, Mr Cummings claimed, the PPS said he would “check with the PM if he’s happy for it to go ahead”, adding: “I am sure he did check with the PM.”

Mr Cummings said he had then challenged Mr Johnson himself, but added: “The PM waved it aside.”

Labour’s shadow policing minister Sarah Jones called the claims “extraordinary” and accused the government of being in chaos.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Mr Cummings was “a key witness” and should be interviewed by Sue Gray.

Timeline: The alleged government gatherings

The government is facing mounting pressure over several events that are alleged to have been held during lockdowns. Here is what we know about them and the restrictions in place at the time:

Boris Johnson announced a plan to take the “first careful steps” out of the lockdown that began in March 2020. But he said people should continue to “obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them”.

Legal restrictions at the time said you could not leave your house without a reasonable excuse and government guidance was that you could meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor setting while exercising.

A photo from May 2020 showed the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden. When asked about it, Boris Johnson said, “those people were at work talking about work”.

About 100 people were invited by email to “socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden” on behalf of the prime minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds.

Witnesses told the BBC the PM and his wife were among about 30 people who attended.

Boris Johnson has confirmed he attended the event, saying he was there for 25 minutes and “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

Boris Johnson announced plans for a “significant return to normality” in England by Christmas “through targeted, local action” instead of national lockdowns.

But he added that the timetable relied on “every one of us staying alert and acting responsibly”.

With cases of coronavirus rising again, the prime minister told people in England that “we are once again asking you to stay at home” as a new national lockdown began.

He said people should only leave their homes “for work if you can’t work from home, for education, and for essential activities and emergencies”. Indoor gatherings with other households were banned, unless they were for work purposes.

Sources told the BBC that Downing Street staff members attended a gathering with Carrie Johnson in the flat where she and the prime minister live. A spokesman for Mrs Johnson denies the party took place.

A leaving event was held for No 10 aide, Cleo Watson, where people were drinking, and Mr Johnson made a speech, according to sources.

The second national lockdown ended after four weeks but Boris Johnson replaced those restrictions with “tough tiers to keep this virus down”.

London was placed in tier two, which banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless “reasonably necessary” for work purposes.

The Department for Education has confirmed it had an office gathering to thank staff for their work during the pandemic. It says drinks and snacks were brought by those who attended and no outside guests or support staff were invited.

The Conservative Party has admitted that an “unauthorised gathering” took place at its HQ in Westminster. It was held by the team of the party’s London-mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, who has since stepped down as chair of the London Assembly police and crime committee. The Metropolitan Police is to speak to two people who attended the party.

The gathering at the Conservative Party headquarters was described as ‘raucous’

Multiple sources have told the BBC there was a Christmas quiz for No 10 staff last year. A photo – published by the Sunday Mirror – showed Boris Johnson taking part and sitting between two colleagues in No 10. Mr Johnson has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Johnson was pictured in the No 10 library under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher

London moved into the highest tier of restrictions and Matt Hancock, who was health secretary at the time, said it was important “everyone is cautious” ahead of the festive period.

The Department for Transport apologised after confirming reports of a party in its offices that day, calling it “inappropriate” and an “error of judgment” by staff.

A leaving party was held at the Cabinet Office for the outgoing head of the civil service Covid taskforce – the team responsible for drawing up coronavirus restrictions.

Kate Josephs, now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, apologised for the event, saying she was “truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result”.

Downing Street originally denied a report by the Daily Mirror that a party took place in Downing Street.

However, a video obtained by ITV News showed the prime minister’s then-press secretary Allegra Stratton, joking about reports of an event, saying: “This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”

Lockdown restrictions were eased in England, with pubs and restaurants allowed to reopen with outdoor service only.

However, working from home continued to be recommended and socialising indoors with people from other households was not allowed. Meeting others outdoors was limited to groups of six people or two households.

Two parties were held by Downing Street staff at No 10, the night before Prince Philip’s funeral.

One of the events was a leaving party for the PM’s then director of communications James Slack, who has apologised for the event and acknowledged it “should not have happened at the time that it did”.

Boris Johnson was not at either party.

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