Former Tory leader ‘appalled’ at Boris Johnson’s failure to tackle drinking at No 10

Scandal would not have happened under Thatcher, Major or Cameron, says William Hague

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 18 January 2022 12:17
Raab dodges question on whether Johnson should resign if he lied to parliament

Former Conservative Party leader William Hague has launched a stinging attack on Boris Johnson, saying he was “appalled” by the prime minister’s failure to tackle the drinking culture at No 10.

As Mr Johnson battles to save his premiership amid the partygate scandal, Mr Hague suggested that previous Tory prime ministers would not have allowed drinks events at Downing Street during a pandemic.

“I am appalled because I can’t imagine … that being allowed in any government that I have served in, which is quite a few governments,” the ex-leader told Times Radio.

Mr Hague added: “The scale and regularity of what we’ve read about – it’s not something I can picture happening under David Cameron or John Major or Margaret Thatcher without them saying, ‘What the hell do you think you’re all doing? Get back to your desks and put away that drink.’”

Mr Johnson is facing renewed calls to quit after his former adviser Dominic Cummings claimed the PM had been warned against the “bring your own booze” event in the No 10 garden during the first lockdown.

Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab insisted on Tuesday that Mr Cummings’ allegation that the PM had lied to the Commons about what he knew of the May 2020 event is “nonsense”. But he also said any minister would “normally” be expected to resign if he was found to have intentionally misled parliament.

Chancellor Rishi Suank said on Tuesday that he accepts Mr Johnson’s explanation that he was not warned in advance about a No 10 drinks party in May 2020.

Asked by reporters if he believed the PM, the chancellor said: “Of course I do. The prime minister set out his understanding of this matter last week in parliament. I refer you to his words.”

The Independent reported on Friday that No 10 officials have come up with a plan to sack senior officials and protect Mr Johnson – referred to as “Operation Save Big Dog” – after Sue Gray produces her report on social gatherings in government.

One Tory MP has reportedly dubbed the efforts of some backbenchers to replace Mr Johnson as “Operation Rinka” – a reference to the dog killed during the 1970s scandal involving then-Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe.

On Monday Mr Cummings claimed that email and witness evidence will show that Mr Johnson “lied to parliament” when he denied knowing he was attending a party on 20 May 2020.

Mr Cummings claimed in his latest blog post that Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary (PPS) Martin Reynolds told him he would “check with the PM if he’s happy for it to go ahead”.

The former No 10 strategist also claimed he then personally challenged Mr Johnson himself about the ‘bring your own booze’ event, saying: “The PM waved it aside.”

No 10 has said it was “untrue” to claim that Mr Johnson had been “warned about the event”. The PM’s official spokesman said: “As he said earlier this week, he believed implicitly that this was a work event.”

One Tory backbencher MP told The Independent that Mr Johnson was in “a seriously sticky position” – but is still waiting for Ms Gray’s before deciding whether to send a letter of no confidence.

“His defence he didn’t know he was at a party is pretty weak. If he is found to have knowingly gone to a party, I don’t know how he survives.”

Meanwhile, leading Tory donor John Griffin has called on Mr Johnson to resign. “It is a shame. The whole situation has become comical. Boris has blotted his copybook and now needs to start again,” the founder of taxi firm Addison Lee told The Guardian.

Three other Conservative donors spoke about their concerns over Mr Johnson leading the party at the weekend. It follows criticism from John Caudwell, the Phones4U founder, who last week warned: “Sort it out, Boris, or step aside.”

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