Rees-Mogg: Civil servants told ministers to say 'Covid rules were followed' in No.10

Ex-minister says it was "clear that was what officials were telling ministers" despite Privileges Committee finding no evidence of this
Jacob Rees-Mogg. Photo: NurPhoto SRL/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

19 Jun 2023

Former minister Jacob Rees-Mogg has claimed that civil servants told him he should say “the rules were followed at all times” if asked about Partygate allegations when he was leader of the House.

Rees-Mogg’s comments came in response to the Privileges Committee’s decision last week that Boris Johnson had misled parliament about whether there were rule-breaking events at No.10 during the Covid pandemic.

Johnson quit as an MP ahead of the release of the report, which looked into his claims in the House of Commons in December 2021 that all rules and guidance were followed and that he had been “repeatedly” assured of this.

It also found Johnson had failed to seek adequate assurances that Covid rules were being followed in No.10 because he had not sought the advice of senior civil servants or government lawyers.

Rees-Mogg – who was knighted in Johnson's resignation honours – said today: “I can tell you, as the leader of the House, the briefing I got from my civil servants was that I should say, ‘the rules were followed at all times’.”

Speaking on his GBNews show about the Privileges Committee decision, the MP said "it was quite clear that was what officials were telling ministers".

However, the committee found no evidence of such advice being given to Johnson.

The investigation by the Privileges Committee only found evidence of Johnson being given this advice from two media advisers who had attended one of the events under scrutiny. The only advice from a civil servant the committee found evidence of was from Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, who questioned him directly on whether the guidance had been followed at all times.

Cabinet secretary Simon Case told the committee in March that he had given the then-PM no such assurance.

Rees-Mogg did not specify which officials had told him to say rules were followed, whether they were permanent civil servants, nor whether he had used the line at any point.

MPs are set to vote today on whether to approve the committee's findings and conclusions – which included recommending a 90-day suspension from the House had Johnnson not quit already and that he not receive a former member’s pass, which gives ex-MPs easy access to parliament.

Some 126 fines were issued by the Metropolitan Police to 83 attendees at events in No.10 that broke Covid rules, with Johnson and current prime minister Rishi Sunak two of those to receive fixed-penalty notices.

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