The prime minister’s former top aide Dominic Cummings has said Boris Johnson was warned about No 10 holding a drinks party during lockdown.
Mr Cummings – who has been strongly critical of Mr Johnson since he left No 10 – says the PM “waved aside” concerns about the gathering.
Mr Johnson has admitted he attended the event on 20 May 2020, but says he believed it was work-related.
No 10 said it was “untrue” to say Mr Johnson was “warned about the event”.
A Downing Street spokesman added: “As he said earlier this week, he believed implicitly that this was a work event. He has apologised to the House and is committed to making a further statement once the investigation concludes.”
Last week, Mr Johnson said he went to the gathering in the Downing Street garden and stayed at the drinks for 25 minutes to thank staff for their hard work.
However Mr Cummings, who worked in No 10 at the time of the party, has insisted Mr Johnson “knew he was at a drinks party cos he was told it was a drinks party and it was actually a drinks party”.
Writing in his blog, Mr Cummings added further detail about his account of the discussions leading up to the party on 20 May.
The former advisor wrote that the day in 2020 was a “particularly intense shambles” of a day.
He alleged that Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary (PPS), Martin Reynolds, had sent out the email inviting 100 staff to “socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden”, but “a very senior official replied by email saying the invite broke the rules”.
“The PPS went to the official’s office where they discussed it. The PPS declined to withdraw the invite. I told the PPS the invite broke the rules.”
After discussing it, Mr Cummings claimed the PPS said he would “check with the PM if he’s happy for it to go ahead”, adding: “I am sure he did check with the PM.”
Mr Cummings said he then challenged Mr Johnson himself. “I said to the PM something like, ‘Martin’s invited the building to a drinks party, this is what I’m talking about, you’ve got to grip this madhouse’.”
But he added: “The PM waved it aside.”
He said his account showed that “the PM lied to Parliament about parties”.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Mr Cummings was “a key witness” and should be interviewed by Sue Gray, the senior civil servant carrying out an inquiry into gatherings on government premises during Covid restrictions.
’60 to one against’
Mr Cummings’ intervention comes after Conservative MPs spent the weekend canvassing public opinion on the prime minister, with some reporting anger with Mr Johnson.
Speaking outside Downing Street, Conservative MP Steve Baker told reporters: “My constituents at the moment are about 60 to one against the prime minister.
“I’ve listened very carefully to members of my [Conservative Party] association, too. There are some very strident voices in my constituency demanding that I support the prime minister.
“What I would say is I made my view very clear at the beginning of December: that there must be one rule for all.”
The MP later added “it was impossible to say” if Mr Johnson would lead his party into the next general election.
The former minister is an influential voice among Conservative MPs, having previously led a powerful pro-Brexit group within the parliamentary party.
He supported Mr Johnson to become leader of the party in 2019, but has recently been critical over some of his decisions on coronavirus.
Another Conservative MP, Damian Collins, said the number of letters he has received from his constituents about the Downing Street party in May 2020 is “in the hundreds” and “a lot of people are very angry”.
He told BBC Hardtalk that “by far the clear view” from party members in his constituency of Folkestone and Hythe was that “we should give the PM the benefit of the doubt until we see what’s in Sue Gray’s report”.
For a Conservative Party leadership contest to be triggered, 54 Conservative MPs must write to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, to say they no longer have confidence in the prime minister.
On Sunday, former minister Tim Loughton became the sixth Tory MP to call on Mr Johnson to resign, saying his position was “untenable”.
It is reported that those around Mr Johnson have started “Operation Save Big Dog”, which could include an overhaul of his top team, following criticisms of the culture within Downing Street.
But Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Breakfast: “Honestly, I don’t recognise that at all.”
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman also dismissed reports of “Operation Red Meat” – rushing out policies popular within the party to bolster the PM – saying: “None of these issues are things that we have not been seeking to address for some time.
“[The government is] continuing to deliver on those policy priorities.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC radio Mr Johnson was “too weak to lead… he has lost all authority and that matters, whatever party you are in,” he added.
Downing Street party row
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- LAURA KUENSSBERG: What next for Johnson after party apology?
- PROFILE: What is Sue Gray investigating?
- TIMELINE: Alleged government lockdown gatherings
Sir Keir has said a picture of him drinking beer in an office last spring did not show a breach of Covid rules in place at the time.
The Labour leader said the photograph, which first emerged last year, was of him in a constituency office in the run-up to the Hartlepool by-election.
“There is simply no comparison” to the culture within Downing Street, Sir Keir said, adding that Conservatives bringing it up were trying “to take everyone into the gutter with them”.
But Mr Zahawi said he hoped Sir Keir “finds [it] within himself to apologise” over the image.
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