Jacob Rees-Mogg has refused to apologise for calling the Downing Street partygate scandal “fluff” and “fundamentally trivial”.
Answering questions from callers on LBC, the Brexit minister said partygate is “not the most important issue in the world” as the war in Ukraine continues.
Last month, Mr Rees-Mogg dismissed the row over parties held during lockdown in Downing Street and across Whitehall as trivial “fluff”.
‘Disproportionate fluff of politics’
“It is a reminder that the world is serious, that there are serious things to be discussed and serious decisions for politicians to take,” he said, during a live recording of his Moggcast podcast.
“Whether this is about reopening and having new licences for oil wells in the North Sea, or whether it is about getting away from the ‘wokery’ that has beset huge sections of society, nobody now cares whether using the word ‘grip’ is going to offend people.
“All that nonsense is shown for the trivial nature of it… I’d say the same of partygate, all of that is shown up for the disproportionate fluff of politics that it was rather than something of fundamental seriousness about the safety of the world and the established global order.”
‘Completely reasonable’ comments
Asked whether he would apologise for his comments, Mr Rees-Mogg said: “No, I am not going to do that.
“What I am going to do is try and contextualise.
“We have a war going on in Ukraine, we have atrocities being carried out, we have pictures coming through that show the enormous brutality of Putin’s army.
“And what I was saying was in the context of what is going on, not just with Ukraine but also with the cost of living crisis, this is not the most important issue in the world.
“Having said that, people should obviously obey the law.”
Mr Rees-Mogg added that his words were “completely reasonable”.
“I think those words in the context of what’s going on in Ukraine are completely reasonable,” he said.
“I don’t think the issue of what may or may not have happened in Downing Street and what we are now finding out is fundamental.
“What I think is fundamental is that we look in the [COVID-19] inquiry at how the rules were devised and the effect that they had, because I think some of those rules were inhuman.”
PM ‘did not mislead parliament’
The Cabinet minister also refuted claims Boris Johnson misled parliament over partygate rule-breaking.
He acknowledged that people were “undeniably cross” but insisted that Mr Johnson had not misled parliament, suggesting the prime minister had been given “wrong information”.
“The prime minister said that he was told the rules were followed, but that turns out not to be correct and we know that fines have now been issued, but the prime minister can only work on the information he is given.”
“If the prime minister is told information that is incorrect, and passes on that information, he has made no deliberate effort to mislead.”
Asked whether the prime minister should resign if he is awarded a fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police, Mr Rees-Mogg added: “I am not going to answer hypothetical questions.”
His comments came as another Cabinet minister told Sky News that now is not the time for a “self-indulgent leadership contest” if Mr Johnson is fined over partygate.
The war in Ukraine has taken the focus off the issue of lockdown breaches in Downing Street, but it was back in the headlines last week after the Metropolitan Police began issuing fixed penalty notices.
First fines for partygate
Asked if the prime minister should resign if he is fined, Welsh Secretary Simon Hart told Sky News he thinks “the world has moved on a considerable distance”.
He said most of his constituents “want an apology, but they don’t want a resignation”.
Last week, Scotland Yard issued 20 fixed penalty notices to people who attended lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street and Whitehall.
Reports in The Daily Telegraph suggest one of those is the government’s former ethics chief Helen MacNamara.
The newspaper reported that Ms MacNamara received a £50 fine on Friday in connection with a leaving do held in the Cabinet Office on 18 June 2020 to mark the departure of a private secretary.