Boris Johnson has insisted that a leaving-do for a senior aide in No 10 “was not a party”, despite police fines being handed out for the pandemic-era event.
The former prime minister said it would be “completely wrong” to suggest he had been partying during lockdown as he was being grilled by MPs over whether he misled the Commons with his denials about partygate.
He was challenged over widely circulated images from Sue Gray’s report showing Mr Johnson giving a toast for departing communications chief Lee Cain.
The pictures showed the then-prime minister raising a glass while surrounded by colleagues and bottles of wine on November 13 2020, days after ordering England’s second national lockdown.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, a member of the Privileges Committee, asked Mr Johnson whether his advice to other organisations during the coronavirus pandemic would have been that leaving-dos were acceptable.
Mr Johnson, referencing the image of Mr Cain’s leaving event, replied: “I understand that people looking at that photograph will think it looks like a social event.
“It was not a social event. If anybody thinks I was partying during lockdown, they are completely wrong. That was not a party.”
Questioned on whether he would have told other organisations, if asked at a Government pandemic press conference, that they could hold “unsocially distanced farewell gatherings”, Mr Johnson said: “I would have said it is up to organisations, as the guidance says, to decide how they are going to implement the guidance amongst them.
“Where they can’t do social distancing perfectly, they can’t maintain two metres or one metre, they are entitled to have mitigations.
“And we did, indeed, have plenty of mitigations.”
At the time of the November 2020 event, indoor gatherings were banned except for in certain circumstances such as for “work purposes” and social distancing remained the rule in workplaces.