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Boris Johnson under more pressure over new ‘Partygate’ lockdown photos

The photos, obtained by ITV News, appear to show Johnson offering a toast at a colleague’s going away party in November 2020; several bottles of liquor are strewn across the table in front of him. In some of the photographs, Johnson appears to be giving a speech, according to the ITV News report.

At the time, social mixing indoors was banned due to a spike in Covid-19 cases, and no more than two people were allowed to meet outdoors.

Johnson’s premiership has been rocked by the so-called ‘Partygate’ scandal, which has seen months of allegations of parties and rallies at the heart of his government at different stages of the pandemic lockdown.
Britain’s prime minister initially claimed in December that no parties had taken place, but police eventually investigated eight events and Johnson and his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, were both fined for attending one.

The new footage sparked a fresh wave of outrage from opposition lawmakers and some colleagues in Johnson’s own Conservative party.

The November 13 party was reportedly so cramped that people stood “shoulder to shoulder” and sat “on top of each other”, according to a Downing Street official speaking anonymously to BBC Panorama.

“There were about 30 people if not more in a room. Everyone was standing shoulder to shoulder, some people on each other’s knees. (…)”, the official said in the interview broadcast on Tuesday. When asked to confirm that some participants were sitting on top of each other, the manager replied “yes, one or two people”.

“The Prime Minister was heading to his apartment and he came to give a speech for Lee Cain [Johnson’s former director of communications]. He just wanted to thank Lee for all his hard work. He made a little speech about it,” the official added.

The footage casts doubt on a statement Johnson made in the House of Commons in December, after he was asked if there was a party in Downing Street on the date in question.

“No, but I’m sure whatever happened the advice was followed and the rules were followed at all times,” Johnson replied.

Intentionally misleading the House of Commons is a breach of the UK government’s ministerial code and usually leads to resignation.

Asked about Johnson telling parliament that none of the lockdown rules had been broken, another official also told Panorama anonymously: “We were watching all this live and we kind of looked at each other in disbelief like, ‘why ‘Why does he deny this?’ “When we were with him this whole time, we knew the rules had been broken. We knew those parties had happened. I mean, it’s absolutely clear that he lied to Parliament.” [The parties] were every week. Invitations to the Friday press office drinks event were just tacked on the agenda.”

Pressed to find out if there were regular weekly invitations for press office drinks on Friday nights, that same manager said: “Yes. Wine hour Fridays. Invitations that were on everyone’s calendar the world every Friday at 4 p.m.

CNN has contacted No 10 to comment on the BBC Panorama report.

Panorama had asked No 10 for an interview with Johnson or a senior government official, but they declined, according to the program.

“Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he knows nothing about breaking the law – there is no doubt now he lied,” said Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner. “The Prime Minister debased his office. He made the rules and then broke them. The British people deserve better.”

Tory MP Roger Gale wrote on Twitter: “I think the Prime Minister has misled the (House of Commons). It’s a matter of resignation.”

Boris Johnson under more pressure over new ‘Partygate’ lockdown photos
Westminster is awaiting publication by Gray of a report by civil servant Sue Gray on the events of “Partygate”. In a brief update on his investigation in January, Gray condemned “failures of leadership” and “a serious failure” to uphold government standards.

The footage also led to scrutiny from the Metropolitan Police, whose own inquiry into the Downing Street party delayed Gray’s investigation, after officers decided not to fine Johnson for the event seen in the last images.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan told BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday that it was important that “the police explain why they have reached their conclusions”. And former Tory attorney general Dominic Grieve told the BBC that the officers’ decision to clear Johnson for the event was “incomprehensible”.

But Downing Street told CNN police had access to photographs and other evidence during their investigation. They added in a statement: ‘The Met has concluded its investigation and Sue Gray will publish her report in the coming days, at which time the Prime Minister will address Parliament in full.’

Johnson has already apologized for the lockdown parties and pledged to make changes to the Downing Street operation.

The scandal tarnished Johnson’s standing in opinion polls and left his job security on a precipice for several months.

Tory MPs have so far refused to trigger a vote of no confidence which, if passed, could force Johnson out of office. But a disappointing run of local election results last month and two tough parliamentary by-elections scheduled for June have kept the British prime minister’s leadership in check.

CNN’s Radina Gigova contributed reporting.

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