Question Time audience mocks Tory MP for Boris Partygate claim

‘That was laughter, that was ridicule!’: Question Time audience openly mocks Tory MP Maria Caulfield for claiming Boris Johnson ‘genuinely didn’t believe there was wrongdoing’ over Partygate

  • Maria Caulfield, 48, the Conservative MP for Lewes, appeared on Question Time
  • The MP was pressed about Partygate and repeatedly defended Boris Johnson 
  • However, her claims were openly mocked by the crowd, with several laughing 

A Conservative MP was openly mocked by the audience on Question Time last night after she claimed that Boris Johnson ‘genuinely didn’t believe there was wrongdoing’ over Partygate. 

Maria Caulfield, 48, the Tory MP for Lewes, was asked if the Prime Minister misled Parliament over parties at No 10 during lockdown and whether he should resign. 

In response, she said: ‘He genuinely did not believe that there was any wrongdoing.’

Her words triggered laughter from the crowd, which drowned out the rest of her answer. 

Victoria Derbyshire, stepping in for Fiona Bruce as host, asked the MP: ‘When people laugh when you say he said he didn’t believe he was at a party, what does that make you think?

Ms Caulfield responded: ‘As I’ve said, I fully understand the anger and frustration.  

Ms Derbyshire shot back: ‘That was laughter, that was ridicule. They don’t believe him.’  

Boris Johnson is under increasing pressure after he stubbornly refused to admit that lockdown laws were broken in Downing Street despite the Met handing out 20 fines earlier this week

The MP went on to say: ‘I think misleading Parliament, you have to be found guilty of that, it has to be a deliberate misleading, not inadvertently.

‘I think Boris Johnson has been very clear that there were wrongdoings around the partygate situation.

‘He has apologised for that, he has made changes already to Number 10 and can I just say, as someone who did work on Covid wards during the pandemic… no one is more angry about the events that took place in Number 10, because while many of us were working on the wards, we were not having social gatherings after work, so I fully understand the anger, the frustration at what has happened.’

Mr Johnson is under increasing pressure after he stubbornly refused to admit that lockdown laws were broken in Downing Street despite the Met handing out 20 fines earlier this week.  

In a toe-curling appearance before the Commons Liaison Committee, the PM repeatedly blanked questions about whether the rules had been breached.

Under fire from senior MPs, he insisted: ‘I been very clear I won’t give a running commentary on an ongoing investigation.’

Mr Johnson – who is waiting to find out whether he personally will get a fixed penalty notice – also suggested that he will not speak about the issue until after a report by top civil servant Sue Gray is published, rather than when the police conclude their probe. 

Downing Street stuck doggedly to the same stance when pressed by journalists today, despite acknowledging the ‘facts are not in dispute’. 

‘We have been clear that mistakes were made, the Prime Minister believes it is right to respond once the full facts are known, once the investigation has concluded.’

However, Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan admitted that police issuing a first batch of 20 fines meant lockdown laws had been broken. 

The comments, in a round of interviews yesterday morning, echoed the views voiced by Dominic Raab but came despite the PM stubbornly refusing to concede the point.

Ms Trevelyan told Sky News: ‘I think if you or I get a fine, we hopefully pay it and move on from there. And I hope, and I assume, that those who have been fined by the police will pay their fines and that will be the punishment that they have accepted.’

Pressed on whether 20 fines being issued meant there were 20 instances the law being broken, she said: ‘Well, that’s right. They’ve broken the regulations that were set in the Covid Act, and police deem that that was what they did and therefore they’ve been fined accordingly.’

When asked about Partygate, Maria Caulfield said Boris Johnson ‘genuinely did not believe that there was any wrongdoing’

Pictured: Boris Johnson and staff pictured with wine in Downing Street garden in May 2020 – although this incident is not believed to be under investigation by police

Asked why the PM would not say this, she said: ‘Because, as I say, he wants to wait until the whole process of the police review has been done.’ 

Today, Kit Malthouse said he would publicly declare whether he had been fined as part of the police ‘partygate’ investigation into possible lockdown gatherings in No 10.

However, the policing minister said he did not see a reason to break from the routine practice that those issued with fixed penalty notices (FPN) are not named by officers.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, the Home Office minister said: ‘A fixed penalty notice means police have a reasonable belief that you’ve broken the law – you still have a right to challenge it if you want.

‘Having said that, the police practice is not routinely to release the names of those who receive fixed penalties, and I don’t see why that rule should be waived for those people who may or may not be in receipt of it in Downing Street.’

Mr Malthouse said he had not personally received a fine in relation to the police probe.

What happens next on Partygate? 

The Met has announced an initial tranche of fixed penalty notices.

Those will now be processed and sent out to the individuals, who can decide whether to accept or contest the findings.

If they pay the fines there will be no further action. The police have also made clear they will not be named.   

But there still seems to be a long way to go in the investigation.

The Met is thought to have gone for ‘clear-cut’ cases where people accept they breached rules first – which means Boris Johnson is unlikely to feature in this batch.

And they have been interviewing witnesses, suggesting that the probe is still gathering material.

No10 has insisted the PM will admit if he is fined, but the picture is less clear for other ministers such as Rishi Sunak. 

Asked whether ministers should declare whether they had been issued a FPN, he replied: ‘I can only speak for myself – if I had received one, I would have told you.’

Mr Malthouse was asked, as someone who knows the Prime Minister well, whether he was likely to confirm if he had received a fine.

The crime and policing minister told LBC: ‘It is a hypothetical question, but I think if he did, he probably would, yes.’

Asked whether the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, was likely to do the same, Mr Malthouse replied: ‘You’d have to ask her.’ 

Scotland Yard announced on Tuesday that is issuing the first tranche of fixed penalty notices to people who attended ‘Partygate’ events.

But the force warned that its investigation still has some distance to run, saying there is a ‘significant’ amount of material yet to be assessed. 

Mr Johnson was not among the initial group fined, and police say individuals will not be named – as well as ruling out disclosing which events they attended. 

The government has promised to reveal if the PM or Cabinet Secretary Simon Case are issued with penalties. 

Keir Starmer said that the public should be told if Carrie Johnson is issued a fine .

Speaking to broadcasters in Bury, the Labour Party leader said: ‘If Carrie Johnson gets a fixed penalty notice, then of course it should be made public.

‘My focus is on the Prime Minister because he is the one who sets the culture, he is the one who oversaw this criminality at his home and his office, he is the one that came to Parliament and said all rules were complied with, which is clearly not the case.

‘So I do think Carrie Johnson should be named if she gets a penalty notice, but my focus is laser-like on the Prime Minister.’

Starmer has defended his call for Carrie Johnson to be named if she receives a fine in relation to the partygate investigation.

He told Sky News today he agreed with the ‘general argument’ that families should not be dragged into politics, but said it was also in the public interest to know whether Rishi Sunak’s wife was benefiting from Russia-related interests.

Sir Keir added that he thought the Chancellor would want to ‘come clean’ and clearly refute the allegations.

‘There’s a huge difference between the situation of the wife of the Prime Minister breaking the rules made by the Prime Minister and any other situation,’ he said.

‘I’m not focusing on Carrie here. I actually do agree with the general argument families of politicians should not be dragged in.’

Asked whether the rule applied to the Chancellor’s wife, he said: ‘So far as the Chancellor’s wife is concerned, there’s just a fundamental principle, is their household benefiting from money made in Russia when the Government has put in place sanctions?

‘That is in the public interest for us to have an answer to – I’m not attacking their family but I do want to know if the Chancellor’s household is benefiting from money from a company that’s investing in Russia when the Government is saying quite rightly that nobody should be doing that.’

The first FPNs are thought to be ‘clear-cut’ cases where people are not denying allegations. 

The PM is said to have been at six of the 12 events under investigation and has received a legal questionnaire – equivalent to being interviewed under caution – but he has rejected claims he broke rules.

During the Liaison Committee hearing, SNP MP Pete Wishart asked Mr Johnson to accept that ‘there has been criminality committed’.

He replied: ‘I have been, I hope, very frank with the House about where I think we have gone wrong and the things that I regret, that I apologise for.

‘But there is an ongoing investigation… I am going to camp pretty firmly on my position.’

Making clear he had not yet received a fine, Mr Johnson said: ‘I have been several times to the House to talk about this and to explain and to apologise and to set out the things that we are doing to change the way things run in No 10.

‘But what I also said repeatedly… I won’t give a running commentary on an investigation that is under way.’

He said he understood that people would be ‘naturally curious’ about the situation but ‘it would be wrong of me to deviate from that’. 

Mr Johnson added: ‘I think you are going to have to hold your horses and wait until the conclusion of the investigation, when there will be a lot more clarity.’ 

Which bashes are being probed by the police?

The gatherings which ARE being probed 

– May 20, 2020: BYOB garden party

The revelation came in an email, leaked to ITV, from senior civil servant Martin Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street employees inviting them to ‘bring your own booze’ for an evening gathering.

The PM has admitted attending the gathering, but previously insisted he believed it was a work event which could ‘technically’ have been within the rules.

– June 18, 2020: Cabinet Office gathering

Ms Gray’s report revealed that a gathering in the Cabinet Office on this date is being investigated by the police. It has not previously been reported on. 

The event was apparently held to mark the departure of a Number 10 private secretary. 

– June 19, 2020: Birthday party for the PM

A Downing Street spokesman admitted staff ‘gathered briefly’ in the Cabinet Room after a meeting. A report from ITV News suggested up to 30 people attended and the PM was presented with a cake. 

The broadcaster suggested the PM’s wife, Carrie Johnson, had organised the surprise get-together. Reports said Lulu Lytle, the interior designer behind lavish renovations of Mr and Mrs Johnson’s No 10 flat, briefly attended while undertaking work in Downing Street.

ITV News also reported that later the same evening, family and friends were hosted upstairs to further celebrate the Prime Minister’s 56th birthday in his official residence.

Number 10 previously said: ‘This is totally untrue. In line with the rules at the time the Prime Minister hosted a small number of family members outside that evening.’

The police probe relates specifically to the gathering in the Cabinet Room.    

– November 13, 2020: Leaving party for senior aide

According to reports at the time, Mr Johnson gave a leaving speech for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and a close ally of Mr Cummings.

– November 13, 2020: Johnsons’ flat party

There are allegations that the Prime Minister’s then fiancee hosted parties in their flat, with one such event said to have taken place on November 13 – the night Dominic Cummings departed Number 10.

It has been described as the ‘Winner Takes It All’ party because Abba was allegedly played, and Carrie had a long-running feud with Mr Cummings. 

A spokesman for Mrs Johnson has previously called the claim as ‘total nonsense’.

– December 17, 2020: Cabinet Office ‘Christmas party’

A number of outlets reported that a gathering was held in the Cabinet Office on December 17.

The Times reported that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case attended the party in room 103 of the Cabinet Office, that it had been organised by a private secretary in Mr Case’s team, and that it was included in digital calendars as: ‘Christmas party!’

The Cabinet Office confirmed a quiz took place, but a spokesman said: ‘The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office.’

– December 17, 2020: Leaving drinks for former Covid Taskforce head

The former director-general of the Government’s Covid Taskforce said she was ‘truly sorry’ over an evening gathering in the Cabinet Office for her leaving drinks during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.

Kate Josephs, who is now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said she gathered with colleagues who were in the office that day and added that she was co-operating with the Ms Gray’s probe.

– December 17, 2020: Number 10 leaving do

The Sue Gray update said the police are also probing a gathering in Downing Street held to mark the departure of a Number 10 official on December 17.

– December 18, 2020: Christmas party at Downing Street

The claim that kicked off the rule-breaking allegations is that a party was held for Downing Street staff on December 18.

Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts, although the PM is not thought to have attended.

Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, quit after being filmed joking about it with fellow aides at a mock press conference – although it is not clear whether she attended. 

– January 14, 2021: Number 10 leaving do for two staff members

A previously unreported gathering is being probed by the police. The Sue Gray update revealed an event in Downing Street for the departure of two Number 10 private secretaries is being looked at by the police. 

– April 16, 2021: Drinks and dancing the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral

The Telegraph reported that advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events on the Friday night.

They were to mark the departure of James Slack, Mr Johnson’s former director of communications, and one of the Prime Minister’s personal photographers.

Mr Slack, who left his Number 10 role to become deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper, said he was sorry for the ‘anger and hurt’ caused by his leaving do, while Downing Street apologised to the Queen.

The Telegraph quoted a Number 10 spokesman as saying Mr Johnson was not in Downing Street that day and is said to have been at Chequers.

The newspaper reported accounts from witnesses who said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music, adding that it had been told that around 30 people attended both events combined.

The three events not being investigated 

– May 15, 2020: Downing Street ‘cheese and wine’ party

The PM, his wife Carrie, former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, and Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, were all pictured, in a photograph leaked to The Guardian, sitting around a table in the Number 10 garden, with wine and cheese in front of them.

Some 15 other people were also in the photograph, but the Prime Minister has insisted this was a work meeting, saying: ‘Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.’ 

– November 27, 2020: Second staff leaving do

The Mirror reported that the PM gave a farewell speech to an aide at the end of November while the lockdown in England was still in place.

Other reports have said the leaving do was for Cleo Watson, a senior Downing Street aide and ally of Mr Cummings. 

– December 10, 2020: Department for Education party

The DfE confirmed a social event happened after The Mirror reported that former education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech at an event organised at his department’s Whitehall headquarters.

A spokesman acknowledged that ‘it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time’.

Is the unlucky 13th being investigated? 

– December 15, 2020: Downing Street quiz

The PM appeared on contestants’ screens at the quiz but has insisted he broke no rules.

An image published by the Sunday Mirror showed Mr Johnson flanked by two colleagues, one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat, in Number 10.

Downing Street admitted Mr Johnson ‘briefly’ attended the quiz after the photographic evidence emerged but insisted it was a virtual event.

The police initially were not investigating this event, but later said they would ‘assess’ it following the emergence of another photograph of the PM. 

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