Boris Johnson has told MPs that it “did not occur to me” that his Number 10 office birthday party was in breach of Covid rules, after receiving a police fine last week for attending the event.
The Prime Minister today said “that was my mistake and I apologise for it unreservedly”, but that he now felt “an even greater sense of obligation to deliver on the priorities of the British people”.
Conservative MPs have largely rallied round the Prime Minister, despite the police fine, however senior Tory Mark Harper today broke cover to call for Johnson’s resignation.
House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has also granted a vote on Thursday over whether the Prime Minister should be referred to Westminster’s Committee of Privileges for misleading parliament.
Johnson told parliament on numerous occasions in December and January that no Covid rules were broken in Downing Street throughout the pandemic, however the PM’s police fine last week suggests this is not true.
It is traditionally a resigning offence for a minister or Prime Minister to mislead parliament.
Johnson’s defence is that he genuinely thought he was not breaking the Covid rules at the time and that, therefore, his statements to parliament were always true as far as he was aware.
The Prime Minister said: “I take this opportunity on the first available sitting day to repeat my wholehearted apology to the house.
“As soson as I received the notice, I acknowledged the hurt and the anger. I said that people had a right to expect better of their Prime Minister and I repeat that in the house now.
“Let me also say, not by way of mitigation or excuse … it did not occur to me then or subsequently that a gathering in the cabinet room just before a vital meeting on Covid strategy could amount to a breach of the rules.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged Tory backbench MPs to take out Johnson as party leader, telling them to not “follow in the slipstream of an out of touch, out of control Prime Minister”.
“The public have made up their mind – they don’t believe a word the Prime Minister says. They know what he is,” Starmer said.
“As ever with this Prime Minister, those close to him find themselves ruined and the institutions he vows to protect damaged. Good ministers forced to walk away from public service, the chancellor’s career up in flames and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives rendered pathetic.”
Johnson, his wife Carrie and Rishi Sunak were all fined for attending the PM’s surprise office birthday party in Number 10 in June 2020.
The Prime Minister says he only attended the event for 10 minutes and did not consider it a Covid breach.
The Metropolitan Police’s investigation into partygate is ongoing, with Johnson potentially facing more fines for other events he attended during times of strict Covid restrictions.
Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper submitted a letter of no-confidence in Johnson to the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers.
“Integrity is about doing the right thing, even when no one is looking,” Harper said.
“The culture of an organisation is set by, and the responsibility of, the person who leads that organisation. The clearest example of the toxic culture in 10 Downing Street that the Prime Minister fostered was the partying by senior political appointees hours before Her Majesty The Queen laid to rest her beloved husband of 73 years during a period of national mourning.”