‘I was very busy. The party was crap. I’m sorry you’re angry. Now leave me alone.’ That was the gist of Boris’s statement about being fined for attending an event in Downing Street to celebrate his birthday.
A flustered-looking Prime Minister delivered the Partygate Declaration in a small, wood-panelled room with a nicely-lit painting behind him. Not a bad setting. It looked homely, low-key, reassuringly domestic. If he’d sat at a varnished desk flanked by a Union Jack and a Nato flag he’d have sent the wrong signal. And he delivered his mea culpa in a standing position, as if he were dealing with a minor office problem while hurrying to more important meetings elsewhere. This was not a great performance. Under-rehearsed, jerkily delivered, and with too many downward glances at an ill-concealed cheat-sheet.
Contrition was the key motif. ‘In a spirit of openness and humility, I want to be completely clear about what happened on that day.’
The birthday boy rose at 7 a.m. and chaired eight meetings in No. 10 before visiting a school in Hemel Hempstead which took him away from the office for four hours. When he returned, the law-breaking began. But there wasn’t much law-breaking, he claimed. Just a bit of law-breaking. He mentioned ‘a brief gathering in the cabinet room shortly after 2 p.m. which took ten minutes and during which people I worked with kindly passed on their good wishes.’
Ten minutes. That’s the only concrete detail we got. Was there cake? Were presents given? Did anyone sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow?’ Was the Prime Minister asked to blow out 56 candles and make a wish? Crucially, was there a speech? It would be odd for Boris to find himself among a receptive audience and not to give them a bit of standup comedy. But posterity must wait for answers to these momentous questions. All we know is that the party lasted as long as it takes to do a lateral flow test.
Then came the legal niceties. Boris has told the Commons that no rules were broken. But the facts appear to falsify this statement. Still, a determined escapologist can always find a way out. And Houdini gave it his best shot. Here’s the action replay.
‘In all frankness, it did not occur to me that this might have been a breach of the rules.’ That innocuous claim provides cover for his Commons statement that everyone in Downing Street obeyed the law. The next sentence shows the great jail-breaker springing the locks and leaping to freedom.
‘But the police have found otherwise and I fully respect the outcome of their investigation.’ Of course he respects the cops’ decision because he doesn’t want to challenge the fine in court. But he’s using the fixed penalty notice as his defence. He’ll say that when he informed MPs that no laws had been broken he was faithfully conveying an impression which later turned out to be inaccurate. And no one deserves to be sacked for failing to possess all the relevant information. He didn’t ‘knowingly’ mislead parliament. All he did was make a hasty subjective judgement in the middle of a global medical emergency.
Let me off! I’ve got the world to save! That’s Boris’s position for now. Crazy but it may hold.