Minister Admits PM's Partygate Excuse 'Sounds Absurd' To Public

Armed forces minister James Heappey even admitted that "millions" of voters will not believe Boris Johnson’s defence.
James Heappey
James Heappey
Sky News

A minister today admitted that Boris Johnson’s explanation over the garden party “sounds absurd” to the public.

James Heappey also admitted that millions of voters will not believe Johnson’s defence over the partygate scandal.

The armed forces minister made the candid comments on Wednesday morning as he stressed that the prime minister’s day is usually so busy that he is “bounced” from meeting to meeting.

It comes after the PM has repeatedly insisted he believed “socially distanced drinks” in the Downing Street garden on May 20, 2020, were a work event and that he had gone into the garden to thank his staff for 25 minutes.

Around 40 people are said to have gathered for the event, with tables laid out with bottles of gin and wine. They were invited by Johnson’s principal private secretary who sent a “BYOB” email to staff.

Asked why the PM did not think to ask why people were gathered in his garden, Heappey told Sky News: “I think that this to most people who don’t hang around in Downing Street and haven’t seen the way that the prime minister’s day is put together - that will sound absurd.

“But the reality is that the prime minister’s day is put together in five minute blocks.

“I spent six months as his parliamentary private secretary running around in Downing Street and around Westminster behind him.

“And it is the most extraordinary job - you can bounce from a National Security Council meeting straight into a meeting with fellow ministers on a domestic policy issue, straight into a phone call with a foreign leader.

“And then someone comes and grabs you from your office and takes you down to the garden and in the 30 seconds that takes to go down the stairs you get a pre-brief on what is going on...”

Heappey told a later interview on BBC Breakfast that the PM “doesn’t really own his own diary”.

And on Radio 4′s Today programme, he said: “I choose to believe what he said, but there’ll be millions of your listeners who won’t. That’s why Sue Gray is doing her investigation.”

Asked if he wanted Johnson to lead his party into the next election, Heappey said: “As things stand right now, yes.”

The garden party is one of a number of events being investigated by senior civil servant Sue Gray who is expected to report back at the end of this week at the earliest.

It comes after Johnson made another grovelling apology in an interview yesterday in which he repeatedly claimed he thought the garden party was a “work event”.

However, legal experts poured cold water on his defence, saying there was no such exemption for work gatherings when the event took place on May 20, 2020.

The prime minister told broadcasters on Tuesday: “When I went out into that garden I thought that I was attending a work event.”

Boris Johnson put his head down during an excruciating interview on partygate.
Boris Johnson put his head down during an excruciating interview on partygate.
Sky News

Johnson said he could not imagine “why on Earth” the event would have been allowed to go ahead if he had been told it was anything but a “work event”.

But the prime minister’s explanation during the interview sparked further fury from mutinous Tory MPs plotting to oust him.

More than 20 rebel MPs, who won their seats at the last general election, met yesterday to discuss their concerns about Johnson’s leadership.

A number are understood to be preparing to submit letters of no confidence this afternoon after prime minister’s questions.

Their secret meeting has been dubbed the “pork pie putsch” because one represents the constituency containing Melton Mowbray.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated. Follow HuffPost UK on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.


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