Boris Johnson had hoped to move attention this week from parties — with a series of policy announcements planned as part of 'Operation Red Meat', his fightback plan. Nadine Dorries this afternoon told MPs in the Commons of plans to freeze the BBC licence fee for two years while No. 10 plan to bring the military in to tackle the channel crossings — a move that led MPs to congratulate the government on the Tory WhatsApp group.
Yet as No. 10 waits for Sue Gray's report into Partygate, the situation is moving. This afternoon, Boris Johnson's former aide turned tormentor-in-chief Dominic Cummings published a blog on his Substack in which he made new allegations over what the Prime Minister knew about the Downing Street drinks party he has admitted to attending in May 2020.
In his Sunday Times column, Dominic Lawson alleged that despite Johnson telling MPs that he believed the event — which included tables, food and drink — was a work event, he had been advised ahead of the event that this was not the case:
'Last week I spoke to a former Downing Street official who said at least two people had told the PM, after seeing the emailed invitation from his principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, that this was “a party” and should be immediately cancelled. I was told that Johnson’s dismissive response was to say they were “overreacting” and to praise Reynolds as “my loyal Labrador”.'
Now Cummings has used a blog to back up this version of events:
MPs should focus on the basics.
- The PM’s PPS invited people to a drinks party.
- The PPS was told to cancel the invite by at least two people.
- He checked with the PM whether the party should go ahead.
- The PM agreed it should.
-They both went to the party.
- It was actually a drinks party.
- The PM told MPs repeatedly that he had no idea about any parties.
So, where does this go? Sue Gray is understood to have already interviewed the Prime Minister over the various party allegations. Meanwhile, a Downing Street spokesperson has denied on the record that Johnson was warned about the event in advance. Cummings says he will 'swear under oath' that Johnson not only knew about the May 2020 drinks party, but that he 'agreed it should go ahead'. If any evidence emerges to back up these claims it will further deteriorate Johnson's support among MPs.
One of the aspects of the parties row that most worries MPs is the drip drip-nature of the allegations which means the row is hard to draw a line under. The events of the past 24 hours will only add to these concerns.