UK Covid live: Dominic Raab says Cummings’ claim Johnson lied to parliament is ‘nonsense’

Good morning. Boris Johnson’s critics believe that, if they can prove he lied to the House of Commons, then finally they will have the evidence to force him out (because the ministerial code says “ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the prime minister”) and Dominic Cummings is trying again to lever the PM out on these grounds.

Cummings has tried before, and last year he told MPs in evidence to a committee that he had heard Johnson say he would rather see the “bodies pile high” than order a third lockdown – a claim Johnson had categorically denied from the dispatch box. But last year the parliamentary authorities, and even the committee taking evidence from Cummings, showed no interest in following up Cummings’ evidence on this point, and adjudicating on who was telling the truth, and the allegation was left hanging in mid air.

Yesterday Cummings returned with new evidence of Johnson lying which, because partygate has become such a toxic controversy, will be much harder to ignore.

In his statement to MPs last week Johnson said that when he attended the party in the No 10 garden on 20 May 2020, when lockdown restrictions were in force, he “believed implicitly that this was a work event”. No 10 has also said that Johnson was not “warned” in advance that it would be a mistake for the party to go ahead.

There have also been claims from the government that he did not know it was happening in advance. No 10 says he did not see the email from his principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, inviting staff to the party (although it would not be unusual for a PM not to read an email about a diary matter – his staff are there to read them for him). And on the Today programme this morning Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy PM, was asked to confirm that Johnson has denied knowing “in advance about it [the party]”. That was correct, Raab said.

Cummings’ evidence, if true, blows the Johnson account to pieces. In a new post on his Substack blog, he says that he personally told Johnson on the day of the party that holding it was a mistake. Johnson “waved [the concerns] aside”, Cummings says. He also says that he and another “very senior official” told Reynolds on the day that holding the party would be against the rules. Cummings says Reynolds disagreed, but said he would discuss it with the PM. Cummings says he is “sure” Reynolds did check with the PM.

Raab has been giving interviews this morning. He told Times Radio that Cummings’ claims were “nonsense”. He said:

The suggestion that [Johnson] lied is nonsense. He’s made it very clear to the House of Commons … that he thought it was a work event.

But Raab also refused to discuss the details of Cummings claims, and he said these were matters for the investigation by Sue Gray, the civil servant investigating all the partygate claims.

Raab also admitted that, in normal circumstances, lying to parliament would be a resignation matter. After stressing that he did not want to “get into hypotheticals”, he told the Today programme:

If it’s lying, deliberate in the way you describe, if it’s not corrected immediately, it would normally, under the ministerial code and the governance around parliament, be a resigning matter.

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.

10am: Richard Meddings, the government’s proposed candidate for chair of NHS England, gives evidence to the Commons health committee.

11.15am: Greg Hands, the energy minister, and Christopher Pincher, the housing minister, give evidence to the Commons business committee about energy policy.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

11.30am: Sajid Javid, the health secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

11.30am: Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, gives evidence to the Commons Scottish affairs committee about Storm Arwen.

12pm: Vaughan Gething, the Welsh government’s economy minister, holds a Covid briefing.

12.15pm: Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, holds a press conference on Covid.

1.30pm: Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, takes questions in the Senedd.

2pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, makes a statement on Covid in the Scottish parliament.

There will be some UK Covid coverage here, but for more coronavirus coverage, do read our global live blog. It’s here.

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