Boris Johnson’s right-hand man has denied the prime minister is a liar and described him as a man of “honour”.
No 10 chief of staff Stephen Barclay said the PM was not aware that a number of events he attended in Downing Street developed into drunken lockdown-breaching parties and was “shocked” to read the details in Sue Gray’s report on Wednesday.
The report blasted a “failure of leadership” at No 10 as it set out how officials held “wine-time Friday” events at a time when Britons were ordered to stay at home and avoid social contact. It revealed how they drank until the early hours and listed incidents of revellers vomiting and fighting and being rude to security staff and cleaners who objected.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Barclay agreed it was “heartbreaking” that Britons were unable to say farewell to dying loved ones during lockdown.
But he insisted that the situation was not comparable to the prime minister raising a toast to departing colleagues at leaving drinks events in No 10, as the people involved were already working in “tight-knit” groups on the Covid response.
After Mr Johnson yesterday resisted calls to resign for misleading parliament, Mr Barclay was asked directly by interviewer Kay Burley: “Does the PM have honour?”
He replied: “Yes, he does.”
Burley followed up: “Does he tell lies?”
Barclay replied: “No, he doesn’t.”
Mr Barclay later said he expected Mr Johnson to lead the Conservatives into the next general election, telling LBC radio: “I believe he will.”
The Cabinet Office minister said that the most shocking aspect of Ms Gray’s report was the abuse of security and cleaning staff by officials, and confirmed that Mr Johnson was this morning meeting cleaners in No 10 to offer a personal apology.
Labour’s Lisa Nandy told BBC1’s Breakfast she was “horrified” by the picture painted by Ms Gray of behaviour in No 10 under Mr Johnson’s stewardship.
“It makes very uncomfortable reading,” said the shadow levelling up secretary. “There were celebration parties, leaving parties, garden parties, staff being told to leave by the back door so they weren’t seen drunk.
“There were fights,there were people being sick. All of this a culture that the prime minister presided over.
“There’s a rot that runs right through all of this, but it’s quite clear from yesterday that the rot starts at the top and what we have is a prime minister who won’t take responsibility and Conservative MPs who largely – with a few exceptions – won’t do the right thing.”
The chair of the House of Commons Standards Committee, Labour MP Chris Bryant, said that the events described in Ms Gray’s report were “morally indefensible” and the prime minister was “blind to his own failings”.
“He attended these events, he raised a glass at them, he knew they were happening,” Mr Bryant told Sky News. “This may sound like a very pedantic point, but the rules didn’t say anything about an exemption for work events, they simply said no gatherings were allowed and these were gatherings and he was at them, so he knew what happened.”