Michael Ellis answers question on No. 10 party investigation
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Witnesses have told the BBC the Prime Minister and his wife were among about 40 people who attended the gathering on 20 May 2020 – at which point 36,041 people had died from the disease in the UK. But Mr Johnson has declined to say whether he was there.
An email which appears to be written by a Government official with the subject heading “[OFFICIAL -SENSITIVE-No10 ONLY]” was sent out to staff reading: “After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of this lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”
At the time, England was only just emerging from a national lockdown and people were still banned from meeting more than one other person outside, a restriction the public were reminded of just an hour before the No 10 gathering.
The Metropolitan Police said it was in contact with the Government over “widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches” of Covid rules.
Mr Johnson has now been accused of “running scared” from Parliament after sending a junior minister to respond to an urgent question, granted to Labour, over the Covid rule-breaking garden party.
Today Shadow Secretary of State, Angela Rayner, told Parliament that Mr Johnson’s absence speaks volumes adding that people have seen his “smirks” on TV, and have drawn their own conclusions.
Ms Rayner explains that there is no need for an investigation because Mr Johnson could have come out and answered the question today about whether he attended the party. She also asked if Rishi Sunak knew about the party, pointing out he lives in Downing Street too.
Michael Ellis, the Paymaster General, was dispatched to answer questions from MPs instead of Mr Johnson, but the Prime Minister will have to face up to the scandal on Wednesday at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Facing relentless heckles and laughter from opposition benches in the Commons, Mr Ellis said the Prime Minister “takes this matter very seriously”.
Mr Ellis told the Commons: “It is clear that in this country the same rules apply to everyone.
“The Prime Minister is going nowhere. He retains the confidence of the people of this country.”
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Mr Ellis did not answer with any details of the party, whether or not it happened, or whether the Prime Minister has revealed in a private conversation that he was there, instead he continuously referred to the ongoing investigation being carried out by senior civil servant Sue Gray.
In a letter to Parliament’s Liaison Committee, the Liberal Democrats said the Prime Minister was “hiding behind the smokescreen” of the inquiry.
Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrats’ Chief Whip, said: “Boris Johnson cannot be allowed to hide the truth from the public and Parliament any longer.”
During the urgent question session in Parliament this afternoon, Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, said Mr Johnson should resign or Tory MPs should force him from office.
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