Boris Johnson statement: what did PM say in parliament apology over partygate fine - and how did MPs react?

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Tory MP Mark Harper said the Prime Minister was ‘not worth of office he holds’

Boris Johnson offered a “wholehearted apology” to the House of Commons over his lockdown party fine and acknowledged the “hurt and anger” caused.

However, he insisted he did not know he was breaking his own coronavirus rules.

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And former Tory chief whip Mark Harper said he thought Mr Johnson was no longer “worthy” of the office he holds.

Shouts of “resign” could be heard in the Commons as he made his statement, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the apology was “half-hearted”.

Police issued fines to the Prime Minister, his wife Carrie, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week for attending a birthday gathering in the Cabinet Room in June 2020, while Covid restrictions were in place.

The Prime Minister, who is also marking 1,000 days in No 10, faced MPs for the first time on Tuesday since being issued a £50 fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police

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During his address and in response to questions from MPs he repeatedly used the word “humble” and apologised several times. However, he stopped short of addressing allegations he instigated a separate lockdown leaving do.

Boris Johnson is expected to make an apology to MPs today after being fined by police (Photo: Getty Images)Boris Johnson is expected to make an apology to MPs today after being fined by police (Photo: Getty Images)
Boris Johnson is expected to make an apology to MPs today after being fined by police (Photo: Getty Images) | POOL/AFP via Getty Images

What did Boris Johnson say?

Mr Johnson made a statement in Parliament at around 5pm on Tuesday (19 April) to offer “his say” on the partygate scandal and “outline his version of events” before taking questions, a minister said on Monday.

As well as addressing MPs in the Chamber, the PM is expected to speak to a meeting of the entire Conservative parliamentary party on Tuesday evening.

He is then due to travel to India on Thursday (21 April) on a visit Labour dubbed a “vanity trip” to distract from his domestic troubles on the partygate scandal and the cost of living crisis, unless major commitments are secured in New Delhi.

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Speaking in the Commons Mr Johnson said: “Let me begin in all humility by saying that on April 12 I received a fixed penalty notice relating to an event in Downing Street on June 19 2020.

“I paid the fine immediately and I offered the British people a full apology, and I take this opportunity on the first available sitting day to repeat my wholehearted apology to the House.”

Boris Johnson told MPs: “As soon as I received the notice, I acknowledged the hurt and anger and I said that people had a right to expect better of their Prime Minister – and I repeat that, Mr Speaker, again in the House now.

“Let me also say, not by way of mitigation or excuse but purely because it explains my previous words in this House, that 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.

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“I repeat that was my mistake and I apologise for it unreservedly.

“I respect the outcome of the police investigation, which is still under way, and I can only say that I will respect their decision-making and always take the appropriate steps.”

Mr Johnson said he has taken “significant steps” to change the way things work in No 10.

Boris Johnson told MPs: “It is precisely because I know that so many people are angry and disappointed that I feel an even greater sense of obligation to deliver on the priorities of the British people.

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“And to respond in the best traditions of our country, to Putin’s barbaric onslaught against Ukraine.”

On Monday, a senior Tory suggested a “war cabinet” could be established in place of a leadership contest to avoid detracting attention from the crisis in Ukraine if the PM steps down or is deposed.

Sir Roger Gale said the “interim administration” could be led by the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, who briefly took the reins in 2020 when Mr Johnson was hospitalised with Covid.

The veteran Tory MP previously submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson, which remains “on the table”, but has since said it is not the right time for a leadership election given the situation in Ukraine.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson | PA

How have members of the Conservative Party reacted?

Mr Johnson faced calls to go from his own side as well as from the opposition. Conservative former chief whip Mark Harper said the Prime Minister’s actions were “indefensible”.

He said: “I strongly support the Government’s actions in standing up to Putin’s aggression and helping Ukraine defend itself and our values and it’s exactly at times like this that our country needs a Prime Minister who exemplifies those values.

“I regret to say that we have a Prime Minister who broke the laws that he told the country they had to follow, hasn’t been straightforward about it and is now going to ask the decent men and women on these benches to defend what I think is indefensible.

“I’m very sorry to have to say this, but I no longer think he is worthy of the great office that he holds.”

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Mr Harper later tweeted a letter of no confidence in Boris Johnson which he has submitted to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee. A no-confidence vote in the Prime Minister is triggered if the 1922 chair has 54 letters from Tory MPs.

What did Keir Starmer say and who is John Robinson?

Sir Keir Starmer called on Boris Johnson to resign following his “half-hearted” apology.

The Labour leader highlighted the case of John Robinson, a constituent of Conservative MP Michael Fabricant (Lichfield). Sir Keir spoke of how Mr Robinson and his family obeyed the rules and could not spend time with his wife before she died and had to limit numbers at the funeral.

Sir Keir said: “Doesn’t the Prime Minister realise that John would have given the world to hold his dying wife’s hand even if it was just for nine minutes, but he didn’t because he followed the Prime Minister’s rules, rules we now know the Prime Minister blithely, repeatedly and deliberately ignored.

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“After months of insulting excuses, today’s half-hearted apology will never be enough for John Robinson.

“If the Prime Minister had any respect for John and the millions like him who sacrificed everything to follow the rules, he’d resign, but he won’t because he doesn’t respect John, he doesn’t respect the sacrifice of the British public, he’s a man without shame.”

Sir Keir Starmer went on: “The more people debase themselves, parroting his absurd defences, the more the public will believe all politicians are the same, all as bad as each other. And that suits this Prime Minister just fine.

“Some members opposite seem oblivious to the Prime Minister’s game. Some know what he is up to, but are too weak to act. But others are gleefully playing the part the Prime Minister cast for them. A minister on the radio this morning saying it’s the same as a speeding ticket.

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“No, it’s not. No-one has ever broken down in tears because they couldn’t drive faster than 20 miles an hour outside a school. Don’t insult the public with this nonsense. But, as it happens, the last minister who got a speeding ticket and then lied about it ended up in prison. And I know because I prosecuted him.”

He added: “Looking past the member for Lichfield and the nodding dogs in the Cabinet, there are many decent honourable members on the benches opposite who do respect John Robinson, who do respect the British public.

“They know the damage the Prime Minister is doing, they know things can’t go on as they are, and they know it’s their responsibility to bring an end to this shameful chapter.

“Today I urge them once again don’t follow in the slipstream of an out-of-touch, out-of-control Prime Minister.

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“Put their conscience first, put their country first, put John Robinson first and remove the Prime Minister from office.

“Bring decency, honesty, and integrity back into our politics and stop the denigration of everything that this country stands for.”

What have other opposition leaders said?

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the Prime Minister only apologised because he was caught, describing him as a “serial offender” and again calling for him to resign.

“The Prime Minister has broken the very laws he wrote. To try and argue that he did not know he had broken his own laws would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. Prime Minister, you can’t hide behind advisers, he knows, we know, that the dogs in the street know, that the Prime Minister has broken the law.”

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Mr Blackford added: “A lawbreaking Prime Minister – just dwell on this. A Prime Minister who has broken the law, and remains under investigation over additional lawbreaking. Not just a lawbreaker, a serial offender. If he has any decency, any dignity, he would not just apologise, he would resign.”

He said the “real question” is for Conservative MPs, calling on them to “finally grow a spine” and remove Mr Johnson from office. Mr Blackford said: “In a time of crisis, the very least the public deserves is a Prime Minister they can trust to tell the truth. And for this Prime Minister that trust is broken, and it can never be fixed.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called for Conservative MPs to have a free vote.

He said: “If the Prime Minister won’t resign, will he at least give Conservative MPs on Thursday a free vote so Conservative MPs can decide for themselves whether the Prime Minister deliberately misled Parliament or was just so incompetent that he didn’t even understand his own laws?”

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What else has been said?

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said Boris Johnson will need to leave office before grieving families “move on from partygate”.

Safiah Ngah, spokeswoman and group member, lost her father Zahari Ngah, 68, to coronavirus in February 2021.

She said: “Today’s apology from the Prime Minister was the words of someone who is sorry they’ve been caught, not someone who regrets the harm they’ve done.

“There are already over 50 partygate fines issued aside from his own, and many more parties to be investigated, including in his own flat.

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“His claim that he didn’t realise rules were being broken is just laughable, and shows he still takes us for idiots.”

She added: “Backbench Tory MPs might want us to move on from partygate, but first they’ll need to move Johnson on from his office.”

Could the PM face further fines?

Mr Johnson still faces the possibility of further fines from the police after fresh allegations emerged over the weekend that he instigated celebrations for former No 10 director of communications Lee Cain during England’s second lockdown.

The PM is accused of not only attending the leaving drinks for the former communications chief on 13 November 2020, but initiating the do.

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He then reportedly returned to his flat above 11 Downing Street, where a second gathering involving his wife and her friends is claimed to have taken place. Members of the press team downstairs are said to have heard Abba music blaring from the flat.

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