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UK PM Johnson forced to deny ex-aide’s damaging ‘partygate’ attack

Johnson is already facing growing calls to resign

boris-johnson-mask-ap UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson outside his residence at 10 Downing Street | AP

Boris Johnson is on Tuesday battling further charges around the "partygate" scandal after his former top aide turned fierce critic alleged that the British prime minister had lied to Parliament about a drinks gathering he attended during lockdown.

Dominic Cummings was a key official at 10 Downing Street in May 2020 at the time of a garden party for which Johnson apologised to the House of Commons last week, when he said he "believed implicitly" that it was a work event.

However, Cummings, his Chief Strategy Adviser at the time, took to his online blog to claim that his boss was fully aware that it was in fact a party and that he would ''swear under oath" that he had even warned him against it and wanted it cancelled.

Johnson's office insisted it was ''untrue'' to say Johnson was ''warned about the event'' and reiterated the line being taken by government ministers that a Cabinet Office inquiry into the issue should be allowed to conclude and determine all the facts.

''As he said earlier, he believed implicitly that this was a work event. He has apologised to the House and is committed to making a further statement once the investigation concludes,'' a No.10 Downing Street spokesperson said.

However, Cummings who famously left Downing Street in November 2020 with a box in hand – indicative of an unceremonious exit after a much-publicised power struggle within the top ranks of the Prime Minister's office – has disputed this account from Johnson's office.

''PM was told about the invite, he knew it was a drinks party, he lied to Parliament,'' Cummings wrote on Twitter, posting a link to the latest entry of his blog.

The May 20, 2020, event is one in a string of reported gatherings at Downing Street and other UK government departments in apparent breach of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in 2020 and 2021, all of which are now the subject of an internal investigation led by top civil servant Sue Gray. Her report is expected as soon as this week unless further allegations force a delay into next week.

In the Substack blog which Cummings has used often to attack his former boss, he said he warned Johnson's Principal Private Secretary (PPS) Martin Reynolds that an email invite he sent to Downing Street staff for the drinks ''broke the rules'' and also raised his concerns directly with the UK PM at the time.

''Amid discussion over the future of the Cabinet Secretary and PPS himself, which had been going on for days, I said to the PM something like: 'Martin's invited the building to a drinks party, this is what I'm talking about, you've got to grip this madhouse'. The PM waved it aside,'' he wrote.

Johnson is already facing growing calls to resign and these fresh allegations will only intensify the anti-Johnson lobby within his own Conservative Party, besides providing the Opposition with more fodder for its attacks on the government.

Tory insiders have estimated about 20 members of Parliament have submitted letters of no confidence in the PM to the powerful 1922 Committee of backbench MPs. A formal vote of no confidence will be held if 54 letters are submitted.

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