Boris Johnson raises a toast at No 10 Downing Street during a leaving party for his special adviser, Lee Cain
Boris Johnson’s rumoured political comeback has been dealt a fatal blow by claims that the then prime minister joked about attending an “unsocially distanced” party at No 10 during Covid restrictions, Conservative MPs have told The Independent.
Boris Johnson unveiled the painting at a private members' club in London
A number of Tory MPs said the former prime minister’s alleged remarks at the November 2020 event – not denied by his spokesperson – make it more likely that he will be found to have misled parliament at the upcoming Partygate inquiry.
Mr Johnson told staff at leaving drinks for outgoing communications director Lee Cain was “the most unsocially distanced party in the UK right now”, according to ITV’s podcast Partygate: The Inside Story
A Tory MP said the claim would make it harder for Mr Johnson to avoid punishment when the investigation by the privileges committee concludes. “It’s the final nail in his self-created comeback coffin,” the MP told The Independent.
Another senior figure, a former minister, said: “This will make the privileges committee inquiry more difficult for Boris – if this is stood up, he clearly knew what was going on.”
They added: “I worry that some of his supporters are oblivious to reality and may try causing unnecessary disruption by still pushing him. I don’t see his return as plausible.”
Tory MP Gary Streeter said: “It is inconceivable that he would ever lead us again. Tory MPs don’t want him. We have had an upgrade.”
Other senior Tories expressed concern that if Mr Johnson managed to survive the MPs’ inquiry and stage a return then the stream of Partygate would never end. “More stories about Boris? There’s a surprise,” said one cabinet minister.
The privileges committee will get the chance to grill Mr Johnson on whether he misled parliament about his knowledge of Partygate events at upcoming hearings, expected to begin in February.
When Mr Johnson was asked about the 13 November 2020 leaving do in 2021, the then PM told the Commons that he was sure that “the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”.
A source at the event told the ITV podcast said: “I was working late … I heard the prime minister speaking and that’s when I heard the quote: ‘This is the most unsocially distanced party in the UK right now’ and everyone was laughing about it.”
If the seven-member privileges committee rules against Mr Johnson, it could recommend a suspension serious enough to lead to the threat of a by-election in his Uxbridge and Ruislip constituency. But MPs would have to vote on any recommended punishment.
Asked whether Mr Johnson joked about the leaving do being the most “unsocially distanced”, the former PM’s spokesperson did not directly respond.
The spokesperson said: “During the Covid-19 pandemic Boris Johnson led our country through its most dangerous peacetime crisis in living memory. As prime minister during a 24/7 national emergency he worked constantly to ensure the government did everything possible in its power to save lives and protect livelihoods.”
Sources close to Mr Johnson say he believed the rules were being followed during Mr Cain’s leaving drinks. The ex-PM was fined for attending his own birthday party in the Cabinet Room in June 2020, rather than for the 13 November 2020 event.
The revelation was among several damning new allegations – including claims No 10 staff destroyed evidence on parties and some were seen “getting it on” at a boozy party on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021.
One source told the podcast that key documents and evidence about parties were shredded prior to the Sue Gray-led Cabinet Office probe and eventual police investigation.
“There was a sense, and an implication, that we should start deleting evidence before there is an investigation. And a lot of people started shredding things. Any proof of the events started disappearing,” they said.
Whistleblowers also told the podcast that staff “corroborated their stories” before filling out police questionnaires about their potential involvement in rule-breaking gatherings.
In January, The Independent revealed that No 10 officials had held back evidence from Ms Gray’s team after feeling “intimidated”, while records on WhatsApp groups were also deleted.
Labour said the latest Partygate claims show why Mr Johnson was “totally unfit for office” – accusing him of lying to the public about how he broke rules with “reckless abandon”.
“While people were unable to say goodbye to loved ones … he was breaking his own rules. And we have more evidence today on the way in which he was doing so with reckless abandon, and lying to the British people about it,” a Labour spokesperson said.
The Liberal Democrats said Rishi Sunak should give evidence on “everything he knows about rule-breaking in No 10 – including reports that files were shredded”.
The party’s chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “These shocking revelations confirm Boris Johnson’s total disregard for the rules he asked us all to follow. After all their sacrifices the British people deserve the truth, not more lies and cover-ups.”
Meanwhile, it emerged that Mr Johnson has been living in a property owned by the wife of a wealthy Tory donor in one of the most exclusive parts of London.
The Daily Mirror said the former PM has been residing at the property in Knightsbridge “around the corner from Harrods” owned by Lady Bamford, the wife of JCB tycoon Lord Bamford.
In his entry in the Register of Members Interest, Mr Johnson has declared the use of accommodation provided by Lady Bamford worth an estimated £10,000 a month for three months since the beginning of September.
A source close to Mr Johnson denied a claim by the paper that he was living rent free and rejected the suggestion that he had under-declared the value of the donation. “All of Boris Johnston’s interests including accommodation are properly registered and published in the Register of Members Interests,” said the spokesperson.