UK’s Boris Johnson and the ‘partygate’ scandal

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LONDON  (Reuters) – Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a grilling by lawmakers from the week beginning March 20 over whether he intentionally misled parliament about illegal parties at his office during coronavirus lockdowns when he was leader.

Below is a timeline of the events surrounding what was dubbed “partygate” by the media:

2021

Nov. 30 – The Mirror newspaper reports Christmas parties took place in government offices, including Johnson’s No. 10 Downing Street, in December 2020, when such gatherings were banned.

Dec. 1 – Asked by the leader of the opposition Labour Party about reports of a December 2020 party, Johnson tells parliament: “All guidance was followed completely in No. 10.”

Dec. 7 – ITV News publishes a leaked video showing Johnson’s staff laughing and joking during a mock news conference over how to explain a gathering in Downing Street. The main aide featured, Johnson’s press secretary at the time, resigns.

Dec. 8 – Johnson tells parliament: “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no COVID rules were broken … if those rules were broken, there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.”

Dec. 9 – The government launches an inquiry into the alleged gatherings.

Dec. 19 – The Guardian newspaper publishes a photograph of Johnson and more than a dozen others drinking wine in the Downing Street garden that it said was taken during lockdown in May 2020.

Dec. 20 – “Those were people at work, talking about work,” Johnson says when asked about the Guardian picture.

2022

Jan. 10 – ITV publishes an email sent by Johnson’s top aide Martin Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street employees in May 2020, inviting them to “some socially distanced drinks in the No. 10 garden this evening … and bring your own booze!”

Jan. 12 – Johnson tells parliament he attended a gathering on May 20, 2020 in the Downing Street garden and apologises. He says he believed “implicitly that this was a work event”.

Jan. 14 – Johnson’s office apologises to Queen Elizabeth after it emerged staff partied late into the night in Downing Street on the eve of her husband Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021, when mixing indoors was banned.

Jan. 17 – Dominic Cummings, a former senior adviser to Johnson, says he is willing to “swear under oath” the prime minister knew about a May 2020 party.

Jan. 24 – ITV News says up to 30 people attended a June 19, 2020 event for Johnson’s birthday at No. 10 Downing Street, at which he was presented with a cake.

Jan. 31 – Senior civil servant Sue Gray, who is leading the government’s inquiry, publishes interim findings which point to “serious failures of leadership” and condemn the behaviour. She says some events should not have been allowed to take place.

April 12 – Police issue an initial 50 fines over the gatherings, including to Johnson, his wife Carrie, and then finance minister Rishi Sunak. Johnson rejects calls to resign.

April 19 – Johnson apologises to parliament and says he had not deliberately mislead them.

April 21 – Lawmakers, including from Johnson’s own party, back an opposition motion that his statements “appear to amount to misleading the House” and should be investigated by its Committee of Privileges.

May 19 – The police end their investigation, handing out a total of 126 fines relating to eight dates when events were held at Downing Street and the Cabinet Office.

May 25 – Gray publishes her full findings, which do not specifically blame Johnson.

June 6 – Johnson survives a confidence vote of his Conservative Party’s lawmakers but faces a large rebellion, with only 59% backing him.

July 7 – Johnson quits as prime minister, after another scandal – involving the appointment of a minister who had been accused of sexual misconduct – triggers the resignation of two cabinet ministers and more than 50 other ministers and aides.

July 15 – The Privileges Committee requests diaries, emails, photos and mobile phone messages from Johnson’s office as part of its inquiry.

2023

Jan. 11 – ITV reports in a partygate podcast that Johnson joked to staff “this is the most un-socially distanced party in the UK right now”, during a boozy No. 10 leaving do.

It also cites a source as saying government staff “shredded” key documents and destroyed evidence ahead of Gray’s inquiry.

Feb. 3 – Johnson says in interview “anybody who thinks I was knowingly going to parties that were breaking lockdown rules in No. 10, and then knowingly covering up parties that were illicit that other people were going to … they’re out of their mind.”

March 3 – Privileges Committee announces public hearings will commence from the week beginning March 20.

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