Dominic Cummings ‘would swear under oath’ PM lied to Parliament about parties
By Sam Blewett and Geraldine Scott, PA Political Staff
Dominic Cummings has accused Boris Johnson of lying to Parliament over allegations of lockdown-breaching bashes in Downing Street, insisting he told the Prime Minister to get a grip on the “madhouse” when warning him over one “drinks party”.
The former chief adviser said on Monday Mr Johnson “waved it aside” when he raised concerns over principal private secretary Martin Reynolds inviting more than 100 people to a “bring your own booze” event in the No 10 garden on May 20 2020.
Mr Cummings said regarding that day alone, “never mind the string of other events”, the Prime Minister “lied to Parliament about parties” by insisting he had been assured no events had taken place that would have broken coronavirus rules.
“Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened,” he said.
Downing Street again denied that Mr Johnson had been aware of the event beforehand.
A spokesman said the Prime Minister stood by his explanation in the Commons last week that he believed it was a work event when he found staff gathered in the garden.
The fresh allegation came after Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisted a flurry of eye-catching new policies being announced were not an attempt to save Mr Johnson from being ousted as Prime Minister amid calls for his resignation, including from six Tory MPs.
In an updated blog-post on Monday, Mr Cummings said he had warned Mr Reynolds that his emailed invite to staff “broke the rules”.
“Amid discussion over the future of the Cabinet Secretary and PPS himself, which had been going on for days, 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 former adviser wrote.
“The PM waved it aside.
“The events of 20 May 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.”
Mr Johnson admitted attending but insisted he believed it was a work event which could “technically” have been within the rules.
Before that allegation surfaced, he had told the Commons that he had been “repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken”.
In response to Mr Cummings’ latest claim, a No 10 spokesman said: “It is untrue that the Prime Minister was warned about the event in advance. 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.”
Meanwhile, reports have suggested that ministers were announcing a series of policy announcements, including putting the military in charge of preventing small boats from crossing the Channel and a freeze to the BBC licence fee, under “Operation Red Meat” to save the Prime Minister.
Mr Zahawi told BBC Breakfast: “Honestly, I don’t recognise that at all.”
He added: “Government doesn’t operate like that.”
However, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said the next announcement about the BBC licence fee “will be the last”, reopening the debate over the corporation’s future.
And it was reported that Home Secretary Priti Patel is set to announce within weeks that the Royal Navy will be brought in to spearhead controversial “pushback” tactics to turn away boats carrying migrants across the Channel.
Other touted policy announcements as part of Mr Johnson’s attempted fightback include bids to reduce the NHS backlog and a push on the long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper.
But Mr Zahawi said the policies are “on the list because these are the Government’s manifesto”.
Speaking on Sky News, he said it would be a “good idea” to have a “single command and control” to tackle Channel crossings.
“And that includes not just naval vessels but all other vessels, including Border Force, so that you actually have a co-ordinated operation in terms of the small boats,” he said.
He said the Government wants to “go after the illegal smugglers who are putting these people’s lives at risk”.
But when told those are not the ones on the boats, he added: “Well, they’re the ones we want.”
Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell told BBC Radio 4’s 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.”
Mr Zahawi insisted Mr Johnson will stay in post after further allegations of parties emerged.
Asked three times on Today whether the Prime Minister is safe, 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.”
Senior official Sue Gray, who is investigating a number of possibly rule-breaking events, has questioned Mr Johnson, according to reports.
Mr Zahawi said she must be allowed to carry out her inquiry into reports of coronavirus restriction-breaching events in Westminster after the Prime Minister had “submitted himself to that investigation”.