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Ministers defend Johnson over Downing Street party on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral

UK ministers have dismissed allegations that Boris Johnson misled Parliament about what he knew about the Downing Street parties held in breach of coronavirus rules, saying he had “misinformation” about the get meetings.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit Opportunities Minister, defended Johnson on Monday after it was revealed Downing Street staff had been fined for having a party thrown alone the night before Queen Elizabeth during the funeral of her husband, Prince Philip sat, in number 10 compliance with the corona restrictions in force at that time took place.

Whitehall officials confirmed that some of those who attended the April 16, 2021 party had received disciplinary notices.

The Metropolitan Police are investigating at least 12 meetings That took place in Whitehall in 2020 and 2021 when Covid-19 curbs were in force in England, including several at 10 Downing Street.

A initially 20 fine notices were issued last week for breaching Covid regulations but police said they would not name those who had received them.

Johnson said of the gatherings last year that “the [Covid] Guidelines were followed at all times’, but the Metropolitan Police have concluded that regulations had been broken in the ‘Partygate’ scandal.

Sir Keir Starmer, Labor leader, has accused Johnson of misleading the Commons. Last week he said the Prime Minister had broken the Code of Ministers, which says government officials who mislead the House of Commons should resign.

But Rees-Mogg told LBC radio on Monday that “the fact that the Prime Minister was given false information does not mean that he misled the people”.

“The Prime Minister said he was told the rules were being followed but that turns out not to be true. If false information is given to the Prime Minister and he passes on that information, he has made no conscious attempt to mislead anyone,” he said.

Queen Elizabeth sits alone during Prince Philip's funeral service

Queen Elizabeth sits alone during the funeral service for Prince Philip at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on April 17, 2021 © Jonathan Brady/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Whitehall officials confirmed on Monday that Helen MacNamara, the former director of ethics at the Cabinet Office, was in the first tranche of those who received communications last week. The notice is understood to relate to a exit party held at the Cabinet office in June 2020.

In a statement, MacNamara said: “I’m sorry for the error of judgment I showed. I accepted and paid the fine notice.”

On Monday, it emerged that fines were also being imposed on those who partied at Number 10 the night before Prince Philip’s funeral. About 30 people attended the two farewell parties, which were later merged into one, and staff danced into the wee hours.

The next morning, the Queen sat alone during the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, which was attended by just 30 family members to comply with coronavirus restrictions.

Downing Street declined to comment on the latest revelations, saying Johnson would make an official statement once the police investigation is complete.

“The prime minister wants to make a statement at the end of the process and not in the middle,” said the prime minister’s spokesman.

Rees-Mogg, who called the “Partygate scandal” a “fluke” at last month’s Conservative Party spring conference, tried to downplay the controversy.

“We have a war in Ukraine, atrocities are being committed, images are coming through that show the enormous brutality of Putin’s army,” he said.

“In connection with what is going on, not only with Ukraine, but with the cost of living crisis, this is not the most important problem in the world. Apart from that, of course, people should obey the law.”

Asked whether the Prime Minister should resign if he is fined by the Met, Secretary of Wales Simon Hart argued that voters wanted an apology, not a resignation. He added that given the situation in Ukraine, it was not “appropriate” to engage in a “six-week rampant leadership competition.”

“The world has moved a considerable distance,” he said.

https://www.ft.com/content/c49be7f0-bf45-4f80-959d-b37329a6882e Ministers defend Johnson over Downing Street party on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral

Adam Bradshaw

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