Boris Johnson would “normally” be expected to resign if he intentionally misled Parliament, the Deputy Prime Minister has said, after fresh claims over rule-breaking parties in No 10.
But Dominic Raab insisted on Tuesday that an allegation from former chief adviser Dominic Cummings that the Prime Minister lied to the Commons is “nonsense”.
Mr Johnson is facing renewed calls to quit after his ex-aide said he had warned against the “bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden during the first lockdown.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak insisted he has accepted Mr Johnson’s explanation for what happened, saying that he supports his appeal for patience while an inquiry into events in Whitehall concludes.
But pressed during a pooled session with broadcasters whether he supports the Prime Minister “unequivocally”, Mr Sunak abruptly removed his microphone and broke off the interview.
Mr Cummings said he is willing to “swear under oath” that Mr Johnson had lied when claiming he did not know in advance that the May 20 2020 event would be a “drinks party”.
In the Commons last week, the Prime Minister admitted spending 25 minutes at the gathering but insisted he had believed “implicitly” that it would be a work event.
Mr Raab told Times Radio: “The suggestion that he lied is nonsense. He’s made it very clear to the House of Commons that questions on this… that he thought it was a work event.”
But the Cabinet minister was pressed on what would be expected if Mr Johnson had lied to the Commons.
“If it’s lying, deliberate in the way you describe, if it’s not corrected immediately, it would normally under the ministerial code and the governance around Parliament be a resigning matter,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Downing Street denied that Mr Johnson lied to Parliament but seemed to accept it would be a resigning matter if he “knowingly” misled the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “You have seen us say repeatedly that it is untrue that the Prime Minister was warned about the event (on May 20, 2020) in advance and you have got the Prime Minister’s statement to the House.”
Asked if Mr Johnson would quit if he misled Parliament, the spokesman said: “The guidance is clear, the ministerial code is very clear on this point when it comes to knowingly misleading the House and the Prime Minister abides by that, and we fully support it.”
Earlier, Mr Raab described the event in question as a “party” before rowing back on the remark.
“There was speculation that the May 20 party was held in my honour, to thank me, which is just ridiculous,” he told Sky News.
Asked if that means it was a party then, he said: “No, no, no, this was the claim that was made and it was nonsense, I wasn’t invited and I didn’t attend.”
On Monday, Mr Cummings said he and another senior official warned the Prime Minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, that his invitation to around 100 staff was against coronavirus rules.
“I said to the PM something like: ‘Martin’s invited the building to a drinks party, this is what I’m talking about, you’ve got to grip this madhouse’. The PM waved it aside,” Mr Cummings wrote on his blog.
— Dominic Cummings (@Dominic2306) January 17, 2022
“The events of May 20 alone, never mind the string of other events, mean the PM lied to Parliament about parties.
“Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened.”
A No 10 spokesman insisted Mr Johnson had apologised to the House and that he “believed implicitly” that he had been attending a work event.
“It is untrue that the Prime Minister was warned about the event in advance,” the spokesman said, adding that Mr Johnson would be making a further statement when senior civil servant Sue Gray has completed her inquiry into party allegations.
The latest salvo from Mr Cummings, who left Downing Street in November 2020, is adding to the pressure on Mr Johnson as he faces public calls to resign from six Tory MPs and widespread anger over claims that No 10 staff broke the Covid rules they imposed.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Mr Johnson does not need to wait for Ms Gray’s report – which is expected at the end of this week at the earliest – and called on him to step down now.
“Instead of hiding behind internal inquiries or technicalities, we need the Prime Minister to tell the truth, pure and simple,” she said. “He must resign.”
After allegations of a Christmas party during restrictions in 2020 first emerged, Mr Johnson told the Commons he had been “repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.
But after an email surfaced of Mr Reynolds inviting colleagues to the May 20 2020 event, the Prime Minister admitted in the Commons last week that he attended to “thank groups of staff”.
“I believed implicitly that this was a work event,” he said, before conceding he “should have sent everyone back inside” but claiming it may “technically” have fallen within the rules.