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Boris Johnson’s statement in full 

Mr Speaker, I want to apologise. I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months, I know the anguish that they have been through, unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love.

And I know the rage they feel with me and with the Government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.

And though I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry, I have learned enough to know that there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility.

Number 10 is a big department with a garden as an extension of the office which has been in constant use because of the roll of fresh air in stopping the virus and when I went into that garden just after 6pm on the 20th of May, 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event.

But Mr Speaker, with hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them and I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all, inside or outside.

And to them and to this House I offer my heartfelt apologies and all I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others so that the full facts can be established and I will of course come back to this House and make a statement.’

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Boris Johnson was accused of using his Commons statement on partygate as a way of avoiding personal responsibility for the boozy event today.

The PM’s admission that he was at the al-fresco soiree in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 was his first confirmation that he had attended an event whose existence was revealed last week.

But the 300-word address at the start of an angry Prime Minister’s Questions, was very carefully worded, something spotted by legal experts.

Two passages especially could be seen as key; Mr Johnson told the Commons he ‘believed implicitly that this was a work event’. He also said that it might ‘technically … fall within the guidance’ that was in place.

But afterwards, Downing Street declined to say what the basis was for Boris Johnson’s claim that the May 20, 2020 gathering may ‘technically’ have fallen within the guidance. 

They did claim Mr Johnson did not receive or see the email inviting staff to ‘socially distanced drinks’ on May 20, or tell Martin Reynolds to send it.

Asked whether Mr Johnson had received legal advice on the content of his statement, the Prime Minister’s press secretary said: ‘I’m not going to get into how the Prime Minister works on statements as a matter of course.

‘But this was the Prime Minister coming to the house to apologise and to acknowledge, as he has done before, the need for him to take responsibility and to set out what he is able to at this point.’   

Asked what guidance he was relying on, his press secretary said: ‘He is not pre-empting the findings of this review, he is simply setting out his understanding going into that event.

‘As he made clear in other parts of his statement and his answers, he said he believed implicitly it was a work event.’

Asked why he believed that, she said: ‘He believed the events in question were within the rules ‘and that was the assumption on which I operated’.

‘But beyond that, I’m afraid I’m simply going to have to say that matters around the nature of the gatherings and other such details are a matter for the independent review.’

One leading defence lawyer said the account would be ‘laughed out of court’ in a legal case.

Raj Chada, the head of the criminal defence department at Hodge Jones and Allen, said: ‘If any client had tried to use this, it would have been laughed out of court. 

‘The cross examination would have been brutal: do civil servants/politicians normally ”bring a bottle to work events?

‘I cannot see that his defence has any legal basis as you were meant to be working from home if you could.’

Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister who has spent the pandemic interpreting complex coronavirus laws and explaining them to the public on social media, said the PM’s statement was ‘obviously lawyered’ and ‘very much about his personal liability.’ 

Here we look at the rules in place at the time and whether they will help Mr Johnson’s case.

Boris Johnson was accused of using his Commons statement on partygate as a way of avoiding personal responsibility for the boozy event today

Boris Johnson was accused of using his Commons statement on partygate as a way of avoiding personal responsibility for the boozy event today

Boris Johnson was accused of using his Commons statement on partygate as a way of avoiding personal responsibility for the boozy event today

I believed implicitly that this was a work event’

After spending a few seconds offering something of a mea culpa to the masses, Mr Johnon got to his first hard legal point.

He told the Commons: ‘Number 10 is a big department with a garden as an extension of the office which has been in constant use because of the roll of fresh air in stopping the virus and when I went into that garden just after 6pm on the 20th of May, 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event.’

Coronavirus rules had changed a week before the party as the Government warned it was considering tougher enforcement measures for anyone flouting the rules.

Lockdown fines rose to £100 in England on May 13, 2020 and could be issued to anyone believed to be breaching restrictions on movement amid the coronavirus outbreak.

While anyone found breaking the law would have had their first fine lowered to £50 if paid within 14 days, the penalty doubled for each repeat offence, up to a maximum of £3,200.

Existing legislation known as the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 was updated to reflect the changes.

No more than two people from different households could mix indoors or outdoors.

Further than that, people were only allowed to leave home with a ‘reasonable excuse’.

However, there have been exemptions for those whose jobs require them to go to a workplace or work in larger groups.

The regulations from the time state that gatherings of more than two people are permitted in a ‘public place’ where ‘essential for work purposes’.

Guidance from the time adds that ‘workers should try to minimise all meetings and other gatherings in the workplace’.

But lawyers have noted that the Downing Street garden would not count as a ‘public place’. While it is available to the staff in the Downing Street complex, it is not open to the general public.

The ‘reasonable excuses’ for leaving home include ‘to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living’.

It is not clear whether that would catch individuals who had travelled ‘for the purposes of work’, but decided not to return home immediately afterwards.

‘… even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance…’

Later in his statement Mr Johnson added: ‘I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all, inside or outside.’ 

In a series of posts on Twitter, Mr Wagner said: ‘The Johnson apology was carefully worded and obviously lawyered. He said that he attended because he ”believed implicitly that this was a work event”, that ”with hindsight” he should have sent everyone back inside, and ”technically” it could be said to fall within the guidance…

‘This was only what *he* thought the event was … So defence is a personal one only and leaves open the possibility the event was something else without him realising.

‘This is very much about his personal liability – he is implicitly denying he knew what the event was, had seen the email or had anything to do with it. Because here’s the key point: on the wording of email (‘bring your own booze’) this couldn’t technically have been a work event.’

While Mr Wagner suggested the PM may even say such an event would be considered ‘reasonably necessary for work’ to thank staff for their hard work during the pandemic, he doubted whether this would ‘hold weight’ given the Government guidance in place at the time discouraging workplace gatherings.

He added: ‘The ultimate point is that at the time if anyone had asked the Prime Minister or health minister whether it was lawful to have a social work gathering outdoors for 100 with alcohol and food they would have answered with a very hard ”no”. This is … face saving.’

Mr Johnson’s former top aide turned foe Dominic Cummings put it rather more pithily. He first revealed last week that the May 20 event took place and that the PM attended, despite his warning it was against the rules. 

He tweeted: ‘Whole point of why I & other official told MR (Martin Reynolds – the PM’s personal private secretary)  – WTF YOU DOING HOLDING A PARTY – was cos the invite = obv totally SOCIAL NOT WORK (UNlike all the mtngs in garden). No way ”technically within rules” … bullsh*t cos altern(ative) is admit he broke rules + resign.’ 

What rules were in place and when? 

The emergence of Covid saw the introduction in early 2020 of some of the most stringent restrictions on Britain since the Second World War.

They started on March 16, when the public were told to avoid non-essential travel and work from home where they could. 

Schools were closed four days later to all but vulnerable children and those whose parents were key workers and not at home. The same day, pubs cares and restaurants were forced to shut their doors. 

On March 23, the work from home guidance became an order, with people only allowed to leave for essential shopping, medical appointments and a short list of other vital journeys.

But from May 10, some of the rules began to be loosened. Mr Johnson clarified that  ‘anyyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction or manufacturing, should be actively encouraged to go to work’.

‘You should avoid public transport if at all possible – because we must and will maintain social distancing, and capacity will therefore be limited,’ he said in a speech. 

‘So work from home if you can, but you should go to work if you can’t work from home.’

Days later, on May 13 rules were relaxed to allow people to leave home for reasons other than exercise. But they were only allowed to meet one other person.

These were the rules in place at the time of the Downing Street party. Social distancing did not come in until June 2020.

Source: Daily Mail UK

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