Roger Ratcliffe finds out what
he was doing when he also
wasn’t at a Downing Street party

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It’s all over for our scoundrel of a leader. Of all his blatant lies Johnson’s final undoing was taking everyone for mugs by saying he didn’t actually realise he was at a party in the Downing Street garden on the evening of 20 May 2020 when the rest of the country was in strict lockdown. I mean, how can anyone who sees 30 or more people with drinks in their hands fail to recognise a piss-up?

As I write this, it’s still unclear what the Tories’ final response will be to Johnson’s bizarre non-apology. And we should be very wary of the so-called “independent” investigation into Partygate, the conclusions of which Johnson can veto. But it is now clearly just a matter of time before the Nasty Party (©Theresa May) finds a new leader. Boris the ballot box behemoth has become the electoral liability of Boris the bullshitting rule-breaker. And by the way, I hope the arguments he put forward in 2016 that persuaded millions to vote for Brexit will now be re-assessed and seen for what they were: lies.

You just know that if May was PM at the time she would not have allowed her staff so much as a fizzy orange in the Downing Street garden. Those parties – let’s not forget the others – demonstrate more than anything else the arrogance of Johnson, a belief in his invincibility that comes from getting away with lies for so long.

The scandal made me ask myself where I was on that party day two months into the first lockdown. For many people the answers will evoke painful memories, like not attending funerals because of strict limitations on mourners or not being allowed to be with loved ones in their final hours, but my diary records something trivial. The day was “a real boiler”, it says, and I went walking in Wharfedale alone. Normally I might have been joined by friends but it was against the law to meet outdoors with more than one person who wasn’t from your household.

Fatefully for Johnson, it was also a beautiful day 200 miles south, according to the now notorious email sent by his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, which – surprise, surprise – Johnson claims not to have seen. “We thought it would be nice to make the most of this lovely weather,” wrote Reynolds. Because the party was against the rules, however, he marked the email “official – sensitive”, meaning that it was covered by the Official Secrets Act. No wonder it took so long to emerge.

This illegal gathering in the Downing Street garden would have been captured by CCTV cameras monitored by the Metropolitan Police yet went unpunished. Across England and Wales, though, 120,519 fines for Covid law breaking were issued between the first lockdown in 2020 and the easing of restrictions last April. In West Yorkshire alone 4,716 fixed penalty notices were issued. People were fined for gathering on the beaches at Blackpool and Scarborough. Students in Sheffield and Manchester reported regular police surveillance and fines of up to £800.

Let me give Johnson this crumb of comfort. When he leaves Downing Street his career as a public porky teller needn’t be over. He could enter the famous World’s Biggest Liar contest held each November at Santon Bridge in the Lake District. I doubt anyone there could out-fib Boris.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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