Boris Johnson did not mislead parliament about Downing Street parties but was given “wrong information” by his staff, Jacob Rees-Mogg said.
Downing Street again refused to acknowledge that rules were broken, but the argument from the Brexit opportunities minister hints that Johnson will seek to avoid the charge of misleading parliament if he is fined by suggesting the blame lies with staff.
Last night The Daily Telegraph reported that fines had been issued to people who attended a leaving do at the Cabinet Office on December 17, 2020, when London residents were prohibited from socialising indoors, apart from with their household or support bubble.
The party was for Kate Josephs, who was head of the unit responsible for implementing Covid-19 restrictions at the time. Josephs, who is now chief executive of Sheffield city council, apologised when the event came to light this year. It is not known who has been fined for attending the party.
Helen MacNamara, the former civil service ethics chief, apologised yesterday for an “error of judgment I have shown” after she was fined for breaking Covid-19 laws by attending a party.
She is one of 20 people who have been fined by Scotland Yard so far. Fines have also been issued to staff who attended leaving parties on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
Johnson is not among them and allies say that the prime minster is confident he will avoid a fixed penalty notice by arguing that he was at work events in his own home.
On LBC radio Rees-Mogg stood by his comments that the parties were “fluff” compared to Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis. “Those words in the context of what’s going on in Ukraine are completely reasonable,” he said. “I don’t think the issue of what may or may not have happened in Downing Street and what we are now finding out is fundamental. What I think is fundamental is that we look in the [Covid-19] inquiry at how the rules were devised and the effect that they had, because I think some of those rules were inhuman.
“The fact that the prime minister was given the wrong information doesn’t mean he misled people,” he said.