Boris Johnson has finally admitted Downing Street broke the government’s own Covid rules by throwing a staff garden party in May 2020, but claimed he was unaware that it was not a work event.
In a grovelling apology to the House of Commons today, Johnson said he knew “the rage [people] feel with me and with the government I lead when they think in Downing Street itself the rules were not being properly followed by the people who make the rules”.
“When I went into that garden just after 6 on the 20th of may 2020 to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 mins later to continue working, I believed implicitly this was a work event,” he said at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).
“With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside, I should have found some other way to thank them.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Johnson’s claim that he thought it was a work event was “ridiculous” and “offensive to the British public”, before calling on the Prime Minister to resign.
“Well there we have it, after months of deceit and deception the pathetic spectacle of a man whose run out of road,” Starmer said.
“The only question is: will the British public kick him out, will his party kick him out or will he do the decent thing and resign.”
The Prime Minister faced a series of withering attacks from opposition parties, with MP after MP standing up to call for Johnson’s resignation.
Senior Labour MP Chris Bryant summing up the anger felt in the House of Commons chamber, saying: “The Prime Minister didn’t spot that he was at a social event? That’s the excuse, isn’t it? Come off it.
“How stupid does the Prime Minister think the British people are?”
Johnson repeated his ministers calls from yesterday for people to wait for an inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray on the multiple allegations of lockdown-breaking Downing Street parties before casting judgement.
“[Starmer] should wait until the inquiry has concluded, he should study it for himself and I will respond as appropriate, and I hope he does, but in the meantime yes I certainly wish things had happened differently on the evening of May the 20th and I apologise for all the misjudgments that have been made for which I take full responsibility,” he said.
The latest in a series of allegations about illegal parties came on Monday when ITV published a leaked email which revealed details of a “bring your own booze” party on 20 May in the Downing Street garden.
A Number 10 spokesperson insisted that Johnson never received this email and never knew the event was not a work meeting.
Johnson is facing serious pressure from all sides and is fighting for his political life, just over two years after winning a landslide majority in the 2019 election.
Some Tory MPs are in open revolt, with Bury South MP Christian Wakeford saying he cannot “defend the indefensible”, adding that “it’s embarrassing and what’s worse is it further erodes trust in politics”.
Tory Plymouth Moor MP Jonny Mercer said the whole thing was “humiliating”.
The ongoing scandal has seriously dented Johnson’s standing with the public since the first allegations of rule-breaking parties emerged late last year.
A YouGov poll out today found 56 per cent of people thought Johnson should resign, with just 27 per cent saying he should stay on in the role.
The Conservatives are now consistently trailing Labour by around eight points in the polls.