London politics latest news: Boris Johnson should resign over partygate, says veteran Tory

·27 min read
London politics latest news: Boris Johnson should resign over partygate, says veteran Tory

Boris Johnson should resign over the “embarrassment” of Partygate, a veteran London Tory has said.

Bromley councillor Nicholas Bennett, who served as a junior minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, told the Standard that allegations over parties held in Downing Street during lockdown had “snowballed” and could only be resolved by the prime minister’s resignation.

Barnet councillor John Marshall who served for 10 years as MP for Hendon South, said: “I’m ashamed of what has happened.

“I served in Parliament under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. They would not have allowed the culture to develop - that had Friday nights as drinks nights.”

However, Ealing Councillor Julian Gallant said he was “keen for Boris to stay”, citing the vaccine rollout and response to Covid as Mr Johnson’s successes in government.

Earlier on Monday, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi denied that Mr Johnson was in danger of losing his position over partygate.

The cabinet minister said Mr Johnson would remain in place but acknowledged “mistakes” had been made by Downing Street staff after they breached lockdown rules on multiple occasions.

Mr Zahawi said he “did not recognise” reports that the prime minister would unveil a flurry of policy announcements – dubbed “Operation Red Meat” – in a bid to save his premiership and appease furious Tory MPs. These include the freezing of the licence fee payment for the next two years and sending asylum seekers to offshore locations for processing.

17:28 , Matt Watts

That’s it for our live politics coverage for today - thanks for joining.

Government confirms BBC funding to be frozen

17:27 , Matt Watts

The Government has confirmed it will freeze funding for the BBC for two years and begin a debate on whether a universal licence fee should continue in the digital television age, drawing opposition complaints of "cultural vandalism".

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries told the parliament that the corporation, needed to become a simpler, leaner organisation at a time when the British public were facing rising energy and tax bills.

Dorries said the tax on all television-owning households that funds the broadcaster would be frozen at £159 a year until 2024, before it can rise in line with inflation for the next four years.

Dorries said the new licence spending settlement would give the BBC around 3.7 billion pounds. However analysts have said a below-inflation budget will force the corporation to cut services.

The BBC, home to David Attenborough's natural history programmes and entertainment shows like Strictly Come Dancing, has clashed in recent years with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government, with ministers accusing it of failing to provide impartial news.

Lucy Powell, the opposition Labour spokeswoman for culture, told parliament that the funding freeze was an attack on one of the biggest institutions in British public life, and accused Dorries of "cultural vandalism".

UK ‘can expect more alerts’ over foreign interference in parliament, says Patel

16:12 , Daniel Keane

The UK should expect to see more alerts about foreign interference with politics in the future, Priti Patel has said.

It comes after a security alert was issued to MPs and peers last week after the announcement that solicitor Christine Lee was a spy allegedly working for the Chinese government.

The Home Secretary told the Commons: “We can expect to see these kinds of alerts become more commonplace as a result of the work of our world class intelligence agencies who have adapted to counter these new and emerging threats.

“We are developing new national security legislation to make it even harder for a malign state to conduct such activities.

“We are also taking further steps to protect the integrity of our democracy, tackling electoral fraud and preventing foreign interreference in elections, with the Elections Bill.”

She said that ministers would introduce new legislation to “provide the security services and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to disrupt the full range of state threats”.

Jess Phillips urges Tories to back Labour calls for ‘Rasso’ in every police force

15:45 , Daniel Keane

Shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding Jess Phillips urged the Government to back Labour’s calls to “ensure that every police force area has a Rasso” (rape and serious sexual offence unit).

She said: “Operation Soteria has already pointed out and made it very clear to ministers that there is a real need for more specialism and priority within the police forces, so saying she’s going to pilot it in 14 more areas and find out the exact same thing isn’t going to be enough.

“There is a need for specialism, there is a need for it now, so why is the Government not backing Labour’s calls to ensure that every police force area has a Rasso?”

Home office minister Rachel Maclean replied: “Funding into these important specialisms has been increased and we are increasing funding to the police to the tune of £15.9 billion.”

Drinking is ‘normalised’ in No10, claims former official

15:26 , Daniel Keane

A long-standing drinking culture in Downing Street saw staff start boozing at lunch and waking up there in the same clothes the next day, a former No 10 official has said.

Sonia Khan, who worked in No 10 and the Treasury during the leaderships of former prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May, said drinking had been “normalised” in Downing Street.

“Usually these drinking sessions are sandwiched between pieces of work, so it feels like a very, very routine thing,” Ms Khan told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme.

“Drinks could start at lunch time, they could start a little bit later in the day - different teams do things very differently - but the idea of mini fridges or having drinks underneath your table wasn’t uncommon.”

Government ‘considering all options’ over processing asylum seekers offshore

15:07 , Daniel Keane

The Government is considering “all options” in moving asylum processing centres offshore, Home Secretary Priti Patel said, after reports that Gambia has been approached to outsource asylum seekers in Britain.

At Home Office Questions, Labour MP Diane Abbott (Hackney North) asked: “Is there any truth in the reports that the Government wants to have a asylum seekers processed offshore in countries like the Gambia? Has any such country actually agreed to this?

“And doesn’t she accept that having people processed hundreds and thousands of miles away might meet the letter of our obligation to asylum seekers but it certainly doesn’t meet the spirit?”

Home Secretary Ms Patel replied: “Of course, had she read the new plan for immigration, the actual policy statement published for the benefit of members, she will absolutely know that this Government considers all options in terms of outsourcing, processing and how we actually remove as well people with no legal basis to be in our country.

“I completely recognise that she will disagree with the policies of this Government..

“It matters not which countries, we will continue to discuss this with a range of countries because I, as Home Secretary, and this Government are absolutely determined to fix what is a decades-long problem of a very broken asylum system.”

Johnson urged to end WFH advice to help London recovery

14:50 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson has been urged to end working from home guidance to aid London’s economic recovery.

Business leaders and MPs told the Standard that the measures had “hollowed out” central London economy, writes Jonathan Prynn, Nicholas Cecil and Rachael Burford.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Woodford Green, said: “I would get rid of it (WFH) now. People have got to be encouraged back into the office.

“The infrastructure in London is desperately in need of people going back to the office — shops, small food outlets, restaurants, entertainment — all these things that make London vibrant are all flat at the moment.”

Sir Bob Neill, Tory MP for Bromley and Chislehurst, said WFH guidance should go by January 26 “at the latest and earlier if hospitalisations continue to decline”.

He told the Standard: “The hospitality and retail sectors in central London are being crippled and, thanks to the success of the vaccine campaign, albeit that we have more to do there, we must be planning to move steadily back to normality as soon as possible.”

Read our full exclusive report here.

Cooper: Labour will support measures to ‘save lives’ in the Channel

14:31 , Daniel Keane

Elsewhere during the interview, Ms Cooper said Labour would support any “sensible” measures to save lives in the Channel.

She told BBC Radio 4: “More action is needed to deal with the dangerous boat crossings that are putting lives at risk. In particular, I mean serious hard work with France on stopping the criminal gangs and preventing the crossings in the first place.

“So look, we would support any sensible measures that could save lives in the Channel.

“But there’s two problems with this. First is the timing of it, where it is a briefing to The Times which Government sources are themselves admitting is part of what they describe as Operation Save Big Dog and being about saving the Prime Minister’s skin rather than a serious approach to the problem.

“The second is we don’t really know very much about this, but we do know they have used the Navy before, three years ago. At that point, they had two Navy vessels that didn’t intercept any boats, and that was stopped.”

Shadow home sec accuses Government of trying to ‘pick fights’ with British institutions

14:14 , Daniel Keane

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused the Government of trying to “pick fights” with “important” British institutions.

Asked if she welcomed reports that the BBC licence fee will be frozen, Ms Cooper told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “I think the thing is the BBC is such an important part of our national life.

“And what’s going on is the Government is now just trying to pick fights with our big, really important institutions, our British institutions.”

Pressed on whether she would allow the licence fee to rise, she said: “I think everybody understands in terms of right now, there are all sorts of issues about making sure that we can support people through a cost of living crisis.

“But that’s not what really is going on with the Government at the moment.

“What instead that they’re doing is trying to actually talk about undermining or stopping the BBC altogether, seems to be their approach. And that’s what we think is the damaging approach, at a time when the BBC, you know, does so much important things.”

Sturgeon accuses Johnson of resorting to ‘cheap, populist policies'

13:43 , Daniel Keane

Nicola Sturgeon has accused Boris Johnson of resorting to “cheap, populist policies” to distract from the partygate scandal.

Scotland’s first minister claimed proposals such as ending the BBC licence fee and ordering the military to prevent small boats from crossing the Channel was “unedifying” for the prime minister.

Speaking to the media at a visit to Irvine after the announcement of offshore energy contracts, the SNP leader said: “Instead of Boris Johnson taking responsibility, he appears to be preparing to pass the blame to those who work for him and around him, which I don’t think is the kind of thing you would expect from somebody who is leader of his party and Prime Minister.

“But also, looking for cheap, populist policies to try to distract attention, to use refugees and those seeking asylum to save his own skin.

“While everybody will have different degrees of criticism of the BBC, to try to jettison the BBC to save his own skin, it’s unedifying, it’s beneath the office of Prime Minister and all it does really is underline this feeling that Boris Johnson is not just himself damaged irreparably, in my view, but he is bit by bit undermining and damaging the institutions of the country and the institutions that support our democracy and that’s why it’s got to stop.”

No 10: ‘Vital’ BBC keeps costs down

13:21 , Elly Blake

Downing Street said it was “vital” that the BBC sought to keep down costs ahead of an expected freeze in the licence fee.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “It’s obviously vital the BBC is doing everything possible to avoid new costs for UK households at a time when many are facing financial pressures and deliver the best value for money for licence-fee payers.”

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said at the weekend that the next announcement about the BBC licence fee “will be the last”, and indicated she wanted to find a new funding model for the BBC after the current licence fee funding deal expires in 2027.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “We have said that we will keep the licence fee until the end of the current charter period in 2027 but ahead of that point we will review how the BBC is funded.”

The spokesman rejected Labour’s claim that the announcement of the plans was an attempt to distract from Boris Johnson’s political difficulties: “The Government’s commitment to BBC reform is long standing.”

No 10: Government stands in ‘solidarity’ with Jewish community after terror attack

13:14 , Elly Blake

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said the Government stands in “solidarity” with the Jewish community after British citizen Malik Faisal Akram took four hostages at a synagogue in Dallas, Texas on Saturday.

All of the hostages at the Congregation Beth Israel were freed unharmed.

The spokesman said the Government is not aware of any threat to synagogues in the UK.

“Obviously we can understand that those in the Jewish community might be concerned about these reports,” he said. “But clearly, this country has done a great deal to tackle antisemitism and there is absolutely no place for it. In terms of more specifically, obviously the police are in close contact with US counterparts and are working to deal with any further challenges, but I’m not aware of any specific threat. But absolutely understand there may be concern.

He added the PM “absolutely stands in solidarity with the Jewish community in the UK and indeed Texas”.

The Chequers commute

13:03 , Elly Blake

No10 has admitted Boris Johnson ‘commuted’ between Downing Street and Chequers when the first national lockdown was announced in March 2020.

The Prime Minister was based at his Buckinghamshire mansion for more than 10 days after he called for an end to non-essential travel on March 16 and then announced a full lockdown a week later.

From March 26 people were legally prohibited from visiting second homes.

Downing Street denied the PM broke regulations because his then fiancée Carrie Symonds was heavily pregnant and advised to minimise social contact.

The PM’s spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has seen that reporting and those claims are not accurate. At the time as you know Mrs Johnson was heavily pregnant, placed in a vulnerable category and advised to minimise social contacts. In line with clinical guidance and to minimise the risk to her they were based at Chequers during that period, with the Prime Minister commuting to Downing Street to work.”

PM’s spokesperson denies hearing the term ‘big dog’

12:56 , Daniel Keane

A plan, reportedly referred to by Boris Johnson as “Operation Save Big Dog”, will see a clearout of some key officials from Downing Street following publication of the Sue Gray report into “partygate”, writes our political reporter Rachael Burford.

However, the prime minister’s official spokesman said on Monday that he had never heard the term “Big Dog” used in Downing Street.

Asked if the PM had ever referred to himself as “big dog”, he said: “Certainly not that I am aware of.”

How many party allegations is the PM facing? (Continued)

12:33 , Daniel Keane

- December 11 2020: Wine fridge delivered to Downing Street for staff’s ‘wine-time Fridays’. The Mirror reported that the fridge became necessary so aides could “let off steam”, with regular gatherings allegedly taking place between autumn 2020 and spring 2020

- December 14 2020: Party featuring Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and staff. Mr Bailey apologised “unreservedly” for attending the gathering at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) organised by staff on his campaign team. He later quit his role chairing the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee

- December 15 2020: Downing Street quiz. The prime minister appeared on contestants’ screens at the quiz wearing a Santa hat but insisted he broke no rules

- December 17 2020: Cabinet Office “Christmas party”. A number of outlets reported that a gathering was held in the Cabinet Office on December 17. The Times reported that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was present at the gathering.

- December 18 2020: Christmas party at Downing Street. The claim which kicked off the rule-breaking allegations is that a party was held for Downing Street staff on December 18. Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, quit after being filmed joking about it with fellow aides at a mock press conference.

- April 16 2021: Drinks and dancing the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. The Telegraph reported that advisers and civil servants gathered after work to mark the departure of James Slack, Mr Johnson’s former director of communications, and one of the Prime Minister’s personal photographers

How many party allegations is the PM facing?

12:19 , Daniel Keane

More revelations have emerged about parties being held in Downing Street during lockdown.

The Standard breaks them down in chronological order in the following two posts.

The claims include:

- A garden party on May 15, 2020. Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie, former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, and Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, were all pictured, in a photograph leaked to The Guardian, sitting around a table in the No 10 garden, with wine and cheese in front of them.

- A BYOB garden party on May 20, 2020. Mr Reynolds told employees in a leaked email that they should “bring your own booze” to an evening gathering at No10.

- November 13 2020: Leaving party for senior aide. According to reports at the time, Mr Johnson gave a leaving speech for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and a close ally of Mr Cummings. There are also allegations that the prime minister’s then fiancee Carrie hosted parties in their flat.

- November 25 2020: Treasury drinks. A Treasury spokesman told The Times that a number of staff had gone into the office to work on the Spending Review.

- November 27 2020: Second staff leaving do. The Mirror reported that the Prime Minister gave a farewell speech to aide Cleo Watson at the end of November while the lockdown in England was still in place.

- December 10 2020: Department for Education party. The DfE confirmed a social event had happened after The Mirror reported that former education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech at an event organised at his department’s Whitehall headquarters

‘We will continue to make our case’, says BBC boss

12:02 , Daniel Keane

The BBC’s two most senior executives have vowed to “continue to make the case” for the corporation in the face of threats to abolish the licence fee.

In an email to staff, seen by The Times’ Jake Kanter, director general Tim Davie and Chairman Richard Sharp write: “At the moment the discussions about the future level of the licence fee for the rest of this Charter period are still ongoing, although we do expect them to conclude very soon.

“We will continue to make a strong case to the Government for investing in the BBC.

“There are very good reasons for investing in what the BBC can do for the British public, the UK creative industries, and the place of the UK in the world.”

London Tories dismayed by partygate

11:43 , Daniel Keane

In London, many grassroot Tories are dismayed by the “Partygate” furore, writes Nicholas Cecil and Rachael Burford.

Bromley councillor Nicholas Bennett, who served as a junior minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government, told The Standard: “What has happened is Boris was not honest at the start - this has snowballed and gone on and on.

“Frankly, he should go. It’s an embarrassment.”

Barnet councillor John Marshall who served for ten years as MP for Hendon South, said: “I’m ashamed of what has happened.

“I served in Parliament under Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

“They would not have allowed the culture to develop - that had Friday nights as drinks nights.”

Ealing Councillor Julian Gallant, though, said: “I’m very keen for Boris to stay because I think he has done a fantastic job with the vaccine roll-out and in response to the Covid emergency.”

Nadhim Zahawi: Don’t condemn Prime Minister until Sue Gray’s investigation conclude

11:17 , Daniel Keane

‘I will take on whoever is leading the Tories’, says Starmer

11:01 , Daniel Keane

Elsewhere during his interview with LBC, Sir Keir vowed to take on “whoever” is leading the Tories in the event that Boris Johnson is ousted.

Pressed on who he would prefer to fight a general election against, he responded: “I will take on whoever is leading, I don’t really care.

“I think that it’s in the national interest that Boris Johnson goes now... Put party politics to one side, he’s lost all authority and that matters, whatever party you are in.

“We’re still in the pandemic and it’s very important that people behave in the way that we need them to behave, but he has lost the authority to ask people to do so.”

On other domestic and foreign issues, Sir Keir said the prime minister was “too weak to lead” and Britain was “paralysed” as a result.

Starmer ‘not worried’ by Corbyn party

10:38 , Daniel Keane

Sir Keir Starmer has said he is “not worried” about the possible creation of a new political party led by Jeremy Corbyn.

It follows a report in the Telegraph which claimed the former Labour leader is poised to upgrade his Peace and Justice Project into a party and run under its banner at the next general election.

Mr Corbyn was ousted from the party in October 2020 after claiming an inquiry into anti-semitism in the party had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”.

Asked about a new party led by his former ally on the frontbench, Sir Keir responded: “I don’t feel threatened in the slightest by that.

“I don’t know whether it’s true or not, a lot of these stories go around.

“First we need to recognise we lost badly, and do something politicians aren’t very good at which is not to blame the electorate.”

Data suggests Omicron wave is ‘turning around’, says expert

10:19 , Daniel Keane

The continued drop in Covid cases indicates the Omicron wave may well be “turning around”, a leading expert advising the Government has said.

It comes as government insiders claimed that Boris Johnson was on track to lift all remaining restrictions on January 26 as part of his “Operation Red Meat” to save his premiership.

Prof Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), said that the latest case figures were “cautiously good news” and he hoped the country may have a “flu-type” relationship with the virus by the end of the year.

The latest data shows a 38 per cent drop over the last seven days across the UK in the numbers testing positive for Covid, with 70,924 new cases reported on Sunday.

Prof Tildesley told BBC Breakfast “it does look like across the whole of the country cases do seem to be falling”, adding: “We have had very, very high case numbers throughout late December and early January - we peaked about 200,000 at one point.

“We do now seem to be a little bit beyond that. Hospital admissions are still relatively high albeit there is some evidence that maybe they’re plateauing or possibly going down in London, which is cautiously good news.”

PM ‘is safe in his job’, claims Zahawi

10:04 , Daniel Keane

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has said Boris Johnson is safe in his job.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the Education Secretary said - after being asked three times - that the Prime Minister will stay in his position.

He said: “Yes, he is, because he’s human and we make mistakes.

“And, actually, he came to the despatch box and apologised and said he will absolutely submit himself to Parliament, because that’s our parliamentary democracy.”

Starmer: I will not apologise for drinking beer in constituency office

09:43 , Daniel Keane

Sir Keir Starmer has said he will not apologise after he was pictured drinking a beer in the office of a constituency MP in April last year.

It comes after Tory MPs accused the Labour leader of hypocrisy after he criticised Boris Johnson’s involvement in lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.

The photo, taken days before the Hartlepool by-election last May, shows Sir Keir holding a bottle of beer and speaking to a woman. He denied that any lockdown rules were broken.

Sir Keir told LBC he had done nothing wrong and claimed the Tories were “trying to drag everyone into the gutter with them”.

Zahawi says BBC is ‘something we should protect’

09:21 , Daniel Keane

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi was also pressed on the future of the BBC this morning.

In comments marking a departure to those from his cabinet colleague Nadine Dorries, he said the institution is “something we need to make sure we continue to support and protect”.

Speaking to Radio 4’s Today programme, the Cabinet minister said it is “absolutely right to celebrate what the BBC does globally, the soft power behind the BBC is something that we need to make sure we continue to support and protect”.

And he said negotiations between Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries and the broadcaster are “ongoing”.

“The Secretary of State will make a statement on that,” he said.

“I can tell you, because (BBC director-general) Tim Davie came to see me when I got the job of Secretary of State for Education, the work we do... that the BBC does on education is incredibly valuable.

His comments mark a significant departure in tone from those of Ms Dorries, who has accused the BBC of “nepotism” and political bias.

Rather, Mr Zahawi suggested that “the way people consume media today is very different to the way they did five years ago” and claimed “a proper grown-up conversation as to how the BBC is funded beyond this settlement”.

Dorries accused of ‘cultural vandalism’ over BBC funding

09:06 , Daniel Keane

Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell has said Nadine Dorries’ comments on the future of funding the BBC amount to “cultural vandalism”.

It follows briefings to Sunday newspapers that the licence fee will not rise with inflation - leaving the Corporation forced to make funding cuts which could hamper its output.

Ms Dorries also pledged to end the licence fee funding model in 2027.

Reacting to the decision, Ms Powell told the Today programme: “Let’s not pretend that this is anything other than it is, which is a pretty obvious dead cat strategy from the Government to distract from the totally disastrous leadership context that the Prime Minister is facing at the moment.”

Ms Powell acknowledged that the BBC’s Charter “constantly needs looking at”, but that “you have to draw your own conclusions about the timing”.

She said the £159 licence fee is “incredibly cheap”, adding: “We’ve just got to recognise what it is that we are getting for that payment, which is actually incredibly cheap, even when you compare it to many of the commercial competitors out there, what you get as value, because we all pay in a small amount, what the BBC is able to do.

“Let’s not get away from the fact that this so-called announcement, which was on Twitter yesterday, which is effectively the end of the BBC as we know it, a huge policy announcement, is nothing more than a really obvious, pathetic distraction from a Prime Minister and a Government who has run out of road and whose leadership is hanging by a thread.”

Zahawi coy on reports of ‘Operation Red Meat'

08:47 , Daniel Keane

Quizzed by BBC Breakfast on reports that Mr Johnson could use a flurry of policy announcements - dubbed “Operation Red Meat” - to distract from the “partygate” storm, the Education Secretary claimed the Government “doesn’t operate like that”.

Nadhim Zahawi said: “Honestly, I don’t recognise that at all.

“Look at the work I’m doing in the Department of Education on levelling up, on making sure that every child gets a really high level of education consistently in every corner of our country and the work that Michael Gove was doing on the Levelling Up White Paper (on).

“All that work, whether it be what Priti Patel is doing on her Nationality And Borders Bill to prepare to deal with the criminal element that is putting people’s lives at risk on those little boats.”

Asked why he had listed all the policies reportedly to be used as part of the bid to save the PM, he said: “They’re on the list because these are the Government’s manifesto.”

PM ‘focused on dealing with the big issues'

08:36 , Daniel Keane

Mr Zahawi claims that Boris Johnson is “focused on dealing with the bigger issues”.

The Education Secretary told Times Radio: “If you think again about the big calls, whether it’s Brexit, the vaccine programme which the Prime Minister very much focused on and I led the deployment, and of course the call on Omicron pre-Christmas… on the big decisions, he’s made the right call.

“Of course, we’re all human, we make mistakes. And when he made a mistake, he came to Parliament and apologised for it.”

However, Mr Zahawi said he would have acted differently and told staff to “get back to your desk” if he had discovered a party.

Zahawi denies claim that Johnson knew about May 20 party

08:24 , Daniel Keane

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has been conducting this morning’s media round.

Appearing on Sky News, Mr Zahawi said it was not true that Boris Johnson had known about a party held at Downing Street on May 20, 2020.

He said: “It’s not true that the Prime Minister knew about this. He implicitly thought this was a work event.”

Mr Zahawi said senior official Sue Gray must be allowed to carry out her inquiry into reports of coronavirus restriction-breaching events in Westminster, and he said the prime minister had “submitted himself to that investigation”.

The cabinet minister added that he shared the anger of the public over the issue, adding: “I can absolutely say to you that the Prime Minister feels the pain.”

He said: “All I would say is we have to allow the investigation to take place. Why? Because that’s the fair thing to do – you don’t condemn a man without a thorough investigation.”

 (Sky News)
(Sky News)

Welcome

08:11 , Daniel Keane

Good morning and welcome to the Evening Standard’s live politics coverage.

We will have all the latest from our political team as Boris Johnson gears up for the most difficult week of his premiership.

A quick recap on the current situation below:

- Boris Johnson is fighting to save his future in Downing Street following a string of damaging “partygate” allegations, with a claim of another Christmas 2020 party emerging on Sunday night

- Labour has opened up a 10-point lead over the Conservatives and has risen to its largest predicted vote share in almost a decade, according to polling firm Savanta ComRes

- In a bid to survive the partygate storm, reports have suggested Mr Johnson could overhaul his top team, with the likes of his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, who sent an email inviting staff to enjoy the good weather in the No 10 garden in May 2020, being shown the door

- The PM could unveil a flurry of policy announcements, including an announcement putting the military in charge of preventing small boats from crossing the Channel and the end of coronavirus restrictions on January 26

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