As ‘Partygate’ threatens to oust Boris Johnson as U.K. Prime Minister, here’s the timeline of denials, apologies—and drinks parties
Boris Johnson’s future as U.K. prime minister hangs in the balance as he grapples with two investigations — including one by the police — into alleged rule-breaking parties in government buildings while the country was in lockdown.
The so-called partygate controversy has gripped the country for weeks, escalating on Tuesday after police began a formal probe. That followed news of — among others — a “bring your own booze” party in Downing Street at the height of coronavirus restrictions in 2020, as well as a birthday party for Johnson.
The scandal was already being investigated by senior civil servant Sue Gray, and her report is seen as central to whether members of Johnson’s Conservatives would continue to back him as leader. That review could come within days after police raised no objection to its publication, according to reports in local media.
Meanwhile, the police probe is another damaging development for the prime minister, who is already facing calls to resign, even from within his own party, and slumping poll numbers.
Among the key issues are whether any of the events breached coronavirus rules, when Johnson learned of the May 2020 BYOB party and whether he ignored concerns from some within his office about it. Johnson has also been accused of misleading Parliament, which would customarily be a resigning matter.
Here’s what Johnson has said so far in various interviews and Parliament addresses.
At the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament, Johnson says COVID rules were followed completely by his staff. Asked directly by opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer whether a Christmas party was thrown in Downing Street on Dec. 18, 2020, he replied:
- “What I can tell the right honorable and learned gentleman is that all guidance was followed completely in No. 10.”
Asked in a broadcast interview about Dec. 18, 2020, Johnson said:
- “What I can tell you is that all the guidelines were observed, continue to be observed.”
After days of stonewalling, Johnson finally tackles head-on allegations of a 2020 Christmas party and announces an investigation. He’s responding to a leaked video showing his aides joking about the party at a mock press conference, which prompted the resignation of his former press secretary Allegra Stratton. But he still insists no rules were broken.
- “I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that the people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules, because I was also furious to see that clip. I apologize unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country, and I apologize for the impression that it gives… I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no COVID rules were broken… It goes without saying that if those rules were broken, then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.”
Asked about his involvement in a Christmas party quiz in 2020, Johnson replied:
- “I can tell you once again that I certainly broke no rules.”
When Parliament went into recess for Christmas 2021, it offered Johnson an opportunity to reset his premiership, put the controversy behind him and refocus on topics such as the rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.
But it wasn’t to be.
On Jan. 10, 2022, broadcaster ITV reported that a top aide, Martin Reynolds, had invited about 100 people to a drinks party in the garden of No. 10 Downing Street in May 2020. Such gatherings were banned at the time under lockdown rules.
Johnson makes his second apology in the space of a month to Parliament. He also admits he attended the gathering, though says he thought it was a work event.
- “I have learned enough to know that there were things that we simply did not get right. I must take responsibility.”
- “When I went into that garden just after 6 o’clock on 20 May 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event, but with hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside… I should have recognized that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way… To them and to this House, I offer my heartfelt apologies.”
Johnson apologizes when asked in a broadcast interview about a party held in April 2021 on the eve of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Philip.
- “I deeply and bitterly regret that that happened and I can only renew my apologies both to her majesty and to the country for misjudgments that were made and for which I take full responsibility.”
Johnson is also asked to respond to a claim by Dominic Cummings, his former adviser, that Johnson not only knew about the May 20 party but ignored concerns raised. Cummings has been a thorn in the premier’s side since he was forced out of Downing Street in late 2020. Read more about his mudslinging here.
- “I can tell you categorically that nobody told me, and nobody said that this was something that was against the rules, a breach of the COVID rules…I do humbly apologize to people for misjudgments that were made.”
He adds that people shouldn’t judge before all the facts are known.
- “What people need to do is wait and see what the report says.”
In Parliament, the prime minister responds to news of the police’s involvement.
- “I welcome the Met’s decision to conduct its own investigation because I believe that will help to give the public the clarity they need and help to draw a line under matters.”
Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.