No 10 rejects claims Johnson is victim of stitch-up over police referral

Rishi Sunak has ‘no knowledge’ of the information passed to police and will ‘form no judgment’ on claims of lockdown breaches by Boris Johnson.

Sophie Wingate
Wednesday 24 May 2023 17:36 BST
Former prime minister Boris Johnson (Aaron Chown/PA)
Former prime minister Boris Johnson (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Rishi Sunak will form no judgment on potential further lockdown breaches by Boris Johnson, Downing Street said, as it rejected claims of a politically motivated stitch-up of the former prime minister.

Mr Johnson, who believes he is the victim of such a plot, has meanwhile ditched the Government-appointed lawyers representing him in the Covid public inquiry after he was referred to police.

No 10 was adamant Mr Sunak and ministers were not involved in the decision to pass to the police concerns over events in Chequers and Downing Street following a review of the former prime minister’s official diary.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “To be clear, we have not seen the information or material in question. That would not be right. Nor has the Prime Minister.

“No 10 and ministers have no involvement in this process and were only made aware after the police had been contacted.”

The Cabinet Office also said ministers had “played no role” in the decision to hand information to the police, with the referral instead made by officials acting within the Civil Service Code.

Mr Johnson’s office claimed the handling of the situation was “bizarre and unacceptable” and the events in question were within the rules.

Many will conclude that this has all the hallmarks of yet another politically motivated stitch-up

Boris Johnson's office

“It appears some within government have decided to make unfounded suggestions both to the police and to the Privileges Committee,” a statement said.

“Many will conclude that this has all the hallmarks of yet another politically motivated stitch-up.”

Asked whether he agreed, Mr Sunak’s spokesman said: “No.”

Quizzed on whether the Prime Minister was concerned about the allegations of further lockdown breaches, the official declined to give a view, saying Mr Sunak “doesn’t have knowledge of the information passed on to the police”.

The spokesman also said it was “not for the Prime Minister to form a judgment” on whether the matter was handled well by the civil service.

“There are clear obligations regarding civil servants and how they approach these sorts of issues and the Cabinet Office has followed those rules,” he said.

Entries in the former prime minister’s official diary revealed visits by friends to Chequers during the pandemic and new allegations about his behaviour in Downing Street, The Times, which broke the story, said.

Cabinet Office officials passed concerns to the Metropolitan Police and Thames Valley Police after the new information came to light during a review by taxpayer-funded lawyers ahead of the Covid public inquiry.

The Privileges Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into whether Mr Johnson lied to Parliament about the partygate scandal, has also been informed.

The fallout adds to the problems facing Mr Sunak, who was fined over a gathering in Downing Street during the pandemic along with Mr Johnson in June 2020.

Mr Sunak “definitely” did not go to the Chequers grace-and-favour retreat in contravention of coronavirus rules when he was chancellor during the pandemic, his press secretary said.

The Prime Minister has not discussed the controversy with his predecessor, she suggested, as she declined to answer a “hypothetical” question on whether Mr Johnson would lose the Tory whip if police were to charge him.

Mr Johnson, in a letter to the chair of the Covid inquiry, indicated he was severing ties with taxpayer-funded lawyers representing him.

It is understood he lost confidence in the Cabinet Office.

“I am currently instructing new solicitors to represent me in the inquiry,” he wrote, adding it “is in the hands of the Cabinet Office to agree funding”.

Mr Sunak is facing unrest from allies of Mr Johnson who claim the fresh inquiries are politically motivated.

Former Downing Street director of communication Guto Harri told The News Agents podcast: “Some people have just got addicted to partygate and their appetite to express their rage over it and try to, sort of, exact revenge upon Boris Johnson in particular will never be satiated.”

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