Boris Johnson’s Partygate Defence Is Reaching the ‘Kicking a Cat’ Stage
The Prime Minister’s allies are making increasingly ridiculous attempts to save his career, reports Adam Bienkov
Boris Johnson has until the end of this week to respond to allegations from the Metropolitan Police that he attended illegal parties in Downing Street.
That Johnson attended at least some of the parties under investigation by the police is not really in any doubt.
He previously admitted to the House of Commons that he attended at least one of the parties in the Downing Street garden, and his spokesperson has acknowledged his attendance at his birthday celebrations in the Cabinet room. His attendance at a third party in his own Downing Street flat has also not been explicitly denied by Number 10.
With hundreds of photos having been passed to the police, along with testimony of Johnson’s attendance at some of these events, Johnson appears to have now abandoned his previous repeated denials that any such parties took place and his insistence that all rules were followed.
With those two defences – which he repeated in the House of Commons on multiple occasions – now in shreds, Johnson reportedly has a new, rather incredible defence.
According to The Times, Johnson plans to tell the police that while the parties did take place, it was his job to attend them.
“Johnson has appointed his own lawyer to work on his response and is expected to argue that three leaving parties he attended briefly were a function of his job”, the paper reported on Monday.
In a related defence, ‘allies’ of Johnson also told The Telegraph that while the Prime Minister did attend an ‘Abba party’ in his Downing Street flat to celebrate Dominic Cummings’ departure, he was working at the time because his flat has “a dual office and private purpose”.
These new lines of defence are remarkable for a couple of reasons. First of all they confirm that Johnson misled the House of Commons when he insisted that there was “no party” in Downing Street and that “rules were followed at all times”.
Under Johnson’s own ministerial code, such a deliberate attempt to mislead the House is a resigning offence in and of itself.
Second of all they suggest that the Prime Minister has been reduced to claiming that breaking the law is fine as long as you do so while working.
It remains to be seen how seriously the Metropolitan Police takes Johnson’s new line. However, if even this fails to protect the PM from being fined for breaking his own lockdown laws then a third line of defence looks likely.
Speaking on her LBC show on Sunday, Boris Johnson’s sister Rachel suggested that people were “overreacting” to footage of the footballer Kurt Zouma kicking a cat.
“I do think we are in danger of over-reacting and cancelling Kurt Zouma for one misguided kick in his kitchen,” she said.
She added: “Do we really want to live in a world where one silly mistake can lead to the end of somebody’s career?”
If Johnson is fined by the police then we can surely expect a similar line of defence from Johnson and his allies. After months of denials and outright lies about his involvement in the parties, the Prime Minister’s supporters will switch to suggesting that Johnson’s actions were merely a “silly mistake” that should not end his career.
The problem with this is that while attending one illegal party may be a mistake, attending multiple parties and standing by while your employees attend many more is surely much more than that. As is then lying about it to Parliament and the public.
More importantly if Johnson cannot be trusted to follow his own laws in this one area, then what is to prevent him from not following them in others? And if he was willing to lie about this story, then what else will he be willing to lie about in the future?
The Partygate scandal and Johnson’s attempts to cover up and lie to the public about it are not one-off aberrations but indicative of his wider behaviour over decades in public life.
So while it may be possible to believe that Kurt Zouma suffered a single moment of madness which he now regrets and will not repeat, it is surely impossible to believe that the same applies to the Prime Minister.
And with even many Conservative MPs now finally waking up to this fact, it seems unlikely that the ‘kicking a cat’ defence will do much more to protect the Prime Minister than any of his previous now-abandoned defences.