Four photographs of Prime Minister Boris Johnson drinking at a Downing Street gathering when the UK was under lockdown have emerged just as his government braces for the release of a report into the so-called Partygate scandal.
The photos, published by ITV News, show Johnson proposing a toast with a group of at least nine people next to a table with several bottles of alcohol and party food. The pictures were taken at an event for Johnson’s former communications chief Lee Cain on Nov. 13, 2020, ITV said. The No. 10 press office wasn’t immediately able to comment on the images when contacted by Bloomberg.
While Johnson wasn’t fined for this particular event, it adds to a long-running scandal that’s overshadowed his administration for months and almost ended his political career. Civil servant Sue Gray, who led an internal probe into the events, is due to hand her full findings to Johnson for publication this week.
London’s Metropolitan Police closed its criminal investigation into the saga last week, fining Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak for just one out of at least eight illegal events. The police issued 126 fines to 83 people in total.
“The Cabinet Office and the Met Police have had access to all information relevant to their investigations, including photographs,” 10 Downing Street said in a statement. “The Met have concluded their investigation and Sue Gray will publish her report in the coming days, at which point the Prime Minister will address Parliament in full.”
The photos appear to undermine some of Johnson’s previous statements about the partygate saga. In December, Johnson said in the House of Commons that “all guidance was followed completely in No 10.” When asked specifically about the November leaving do, he said “whatever happened the guidance… and the rules were followed at all times.”
Making deliberately misleading statements to Parliament is a breach of the ministerial code and considered a cause for resignation. Johnson faces a separate parliamentary investigation into whether he has lied about the law-breaking scandal and that inquiry will begin once the Gray findings are published.
The major political question is whether the emergence of the photos will spark a fresh wave of Tory MPs calling for Johnson to step down. Four Conservative MPs, speaking on condition of anonymity, predicted Johnson would be okay. Two others said the photos will create problems for the prime minister.
Steve Baker, who called on Johnson to resign in April, tweeted an emotive advert run by the National Health Service during the pandemic, which showed a patient receiving ventilation with the words: “Look her in the eyes and tell her you never bend the rules.”
“Boris Johnson said repeatedly that he knew nothing about law-breaking – there’s no doubt now, he lied,” said Angela Rayner, deputy leader for the opposition Labour party.