BoJo Apologises, Takes Responsibility For 2020 Downing Street Gathering He Thought Was ‘Work Event’
12:04 GMT 12.01.2022 (Updated: 13:41 GMT 12.01.2022)
Boris Johnson has been fending of a barrage of criticism at PMQs in parliament amid damaging allegations suggesting the Prime Minister attended a coronavirus lockdown-breaching gathering at 10 Downing Street on 20 May 2020.
Boris Johnson has admitted that he must take responsibility
for the gathering in the garden of his Downing Street residence in May 2020, when the nation was under strict coronavirus restrictions.
"I want to apologise... There were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility," said the British Prime Minister in parliament.
"And I know the rage they feel with me, over the government I lead, when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make them."
Referring to the ongoing probe, led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, into allegations of Whitehall lockdown-breaching parties in 2020 Johnson stated:
"Though I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquriry, I have learned enough that there were things we did not get right. I must take responsibility."
Boris Johnson told MPs that he had believed at the time that the gathering on 20 May 2020 was a “work event”.
“No 10 is a big department with a garden as an extension of the office which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus. When I went into that garden just after six on May 20, 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event,” the PM told the Commons.
The embattled Tory leader continued that “with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside, I should have found some other way to thank them, and I should have recognised that — even if it could have been said technically to fall within the guidance — there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way.”
In reaction to the PM's statement, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer lambasted Johnson for "months of deceit and deception," and called on him to resign.
“The party’s over,” said Starmer in the Commons. The opposition leader argued that the PM's defence that he didn’t realise he was at a party was "so ridiculous".
"He’s finally been forced to admit what everyone knew, that when the whole country was locked down he was hosting boozing parties in Downing Street. Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?” queried Starmer.
Johnson, who had been urged by furious Tories ahead of his appearance in the Commons to be “up front and honest” regarding allegations he attended a rule-busting “bring your own booze” (BYOB) garden party in Downing Street, responded:
“I appreciate the point that he’s making about the event that I attended. I want to repeat that I thought it was a work event and I regret very much that we did not do things differently that evening. I take responsibility and I apologise. But as for his political point, I don’t think that he should pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry. He will have a further opportunity, I hope, to question me as soon as possible.”
'Partygate' Row Spirals
Boris Johnson had earlier dodged questions over his alleged involvement in the 20 May, 2020 event, telling reporters on Monday that it was a matter for Sue Gray to investigate. MPs had been cited by UK media outlets as expecting the Tory leader to offer a long-overdue explanation in connection with the allegations at PM's questions. Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called for Johnson to resign
, saying he was "apparently not being truthful about his knowledge of these matters".
The “partygate” scandal had been notched up after a leaked email shared with ITV News claimed the Prime Minister's Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds had invited more than 100 Downing Street staff to a party on 20 May 2020, during the first lockdown in the country “to make the most of the lovely weather.” Around 40 staff are believed to have attended the event, partaking of picnic food and wine laid out on the tables.
Among those present were allegedly the Prime Minister and his wife Carrie Johnson, at the time his fiancée, according to sources cited by the BBC.
At the time of the first lockdown, introduced in late March 2020, social mixing between households was limited to two people, and restricted to outdoor settings, with social distancing of at least 2 metres. The use of the phrase “we thought it would be nice” in the leaked email invite generated speculations regarding Boris Johnson's role in the event.
In light of the latest revelations, the Metropolitan Police announced it was “aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on 20 May 2020” and was in contact with the Cabinet Office.
Amid the scandal, senior party insiders, cited by The Guardian, claimed some MPs were discussing who could potentially replace Johnson, with one MP saying Chancellor Rishi Sunak
could be prime minister within months.
Two-thirds of voters were revealed as believing that the PM should resign amid the "partygate" outcry, according to pollsters Savanta ComRes. 66 per cent of those surveyed stated that Johnson should now resign, including 42 per cent of those who had cast their vote for the Conservative Party at the 2019 winter election.