'It was a work event': Boris sorry for attending No10 lockdown party but won't resign

12 January 2022, 08:18 | Updated: 12 January 2022, 13:24

Boris Johnson has apologised over partygate but will not resign
Boris Johnson has apologised over partygate but will not resign. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson has made a grovelling apology to the nation and admitted that he attended a Downing Street lockdown party, but claimed he didn't know it was a party and insisted he will not resign.

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Mr Johnson broke his silence on the newest partygate revelations, saying he spent around 25 minutes at the "bring your own booze" party in May 2020, which 100 people were reportedly invited to, when England was in lockdown.

However, he told MPs during Wednesday's PMQs: "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."

A leaked email appeared to show civil servant Martin Reynolds, Boris Johnson's principal private secretary, inviting more than 100 Downing Street staff to a "bring your own booze" event.

Read more: 'I know the rage they feel': Boris Johnson's full statement over partygate

Mr Johnson had kept tight-lipped over the revelations but was forced to respond during Wednesday's PMQs in the House of Commons.

"I want to apologise. I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months," Mr Johnson told MPs.

"I know the anguish they have been through - unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love."

"I know the rage they feel with me and with the Government I lead when they think in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.

"And though I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry, I have learned enough to know there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility."

He added: "I should have recognised that even if it [the garden event] could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there are millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who have suffered terribly, people who were forbidden for meeting loved ones at all inside or outside, and to them and to this House I offer my heartfelt apologies."

Sir Keir Starmer retorted: "There we have it. After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road.

"His defence ... that he didn't realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it's actually offensive to the British public.

"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?"

Mr Johnson's apology did not wash with several MPs.

Labour's Chris Bryant said: "I mean how stupid does the Prime Minister think the British people are?

"The worst of it is he's already managed to completely destroy Allegra Stratton's career, he's tarnished the reputation of Lord Geidt, and now he's making fools of every single MP who cheered him earlier, every single one who goes out on the radio and television to defend this shower of shenanigans.

"Would it not be absolutely despicable if, in the search for a scapegoat, some junior member of staff ends up losing their job, but he kept his?"

Mr Johnson said he should wait for the results of civil servant Sue Gray's inquiry into the partygate and added: "I'm grateful to him for his party political advice. I don't agree with him. I've come to this House to make amends, to explain what happened on May 20, and to apologise."

Earlier, Government ministers refused to defend Mr Johnson in front of broadcasters including LBC.

Nick Ferrari said: "Indeed no one is doing the ministerial round of politicians and you can only surmise because of partygate.

"If I am in any way impugning you Mr Shapps, I apologise, if you've caught Covid or whatever it might be, or if there's Covid in your family you have my sincere and deepest apologies.

"But I would suggest Mr Shapps, with whom I've locked horns on a number of occasions, is not doing the round because of partygate."

Read more: Mum who lost daughter, 14, during May 2020 lockdown too devastated to say the PM's name

Read more: Two thirds of Brits say Boris should quit over Partygate, and Tory MPs left 'humiliated'

Mr Johnson had ducked an urgent question in the House of Commons on Tuesday, instead dispatching Cabinet Office minister and paymaster general Michael Ellis to handle the debate.

He insisted an investigation into alleged parties involving Government staff when England was under Covid restrictions would uncover any wrongdoing, and disciplinary action would follow if any rules were broken.

Public fury has continued to mount after weeks of allegations about various No10 events during coronavirus restrictions.

MPs wept during the emotionally-charged Commons session on Tuesday, with DUP MP Jim Shannon unable to finish his question to Mr Ellis as he spoke about his mother-in-law's death from Covid.

Amid calls for Mr Johnson to explain if he attended the party, the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said if he went, his position would be "untenable" and he would have "lost all moral authority to lead the country".