Dominic Raab appeared to briefly admit there was a ‘party’ in No 10 while the rest of the country faced severe Covid lockdown restrictions – before backtracking on his remarks.
The Deputy Prime Minister’s comments came as he tried to dismiss explosive claims by Dominic Cummings, the former chief adviser to Downing Street, that Boris Johnson had lied to Parliament.
Just last week the Prime Minister was forced to admit he attended the ‘bring your own booze’ event in Downing Street on May 20 – but insisted to MPs he ‘believes implicitly that it was a professional event”.
In an awkward exchange, Mr Raab, who is also Justice Secretary, told Sky News: ‘There has been speculation that a party on May 20 has been thrown in my honor to thank me – that’s just ridiculous. Of course not, ridiculous.”
When challenged by presenter Kay Burley, who said ‘so it was a holiday on May 20 at the time’, the Deputy Prime Minister backtracked, saying: ‘No, no, no – this is the assertion that was made.
“It was nonsense, I was not invited and I did not attend,” he stressed, referring to claims last week that the event was organized in part to thank Mr Raab for ‘holding the fort’ when the Prime Minister was in hospital after contracting Covid.
Mr Raab added: “What I can tell you from what I have seen…is that No 10, particularly during this period when the Prime Minister was ill and in hospital, but also throughout the pandemic, worked phenomenally under grueling conditions.
“I don’t personally recognize, from my own experience, the caricature they were all celebrating.”
Speaking after Mr Cummings claimed Mr Johnson had been warned by at least two people in No 10 to rescind the invitation sent to 100 staff at the ‘drinks party’, Mr Raab said insisted: “The Prime Minister has made it very clear that this is not true or accurate”.
He also told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that for a Prime Minister to deliberately lie in Parliament would “normally” be a matter of resignation.
“If it is lying, deliberately as you describe it, if not corrected immediately, it would normally be, under ministerial mode and governance around Parliament, a matter of resignation.”
However, he declined to be fired at Mr Johnson’s position, saying: ‘I am not going to prejudge the facts in this aspect or any other aspect of the claims that have been made.’