Downing Street party: Boris Johnson apologises after admitting he attended lockdown No 10 drinks

The Prime Minister acknowledged the public “rage” over the incident but insisted he thought it could have been technically within the rules

Boris Johnson is faced calls to resign at Prime Minister’s Questions today after admitting he attended a Downing Street party during England’s first lockdown.

The Prime Minister apologised for attending a No 10 “bring your own booze” garden party on 20 May 2020, despite Covid-19 restrictions being in place.

Boris Johnson will face questions over the No 10 garden party at PMQs today (Composite: Mark Hall / JPIMedia)Boris Johnson will face questions over the No 10 garden party at PMQs today (Composite: Mark Hall / JPIMedia)
Boris Johnson will face questions over the No 10 garden party at PMQs today (Composite: Mark Hall / JPIMedia)

Today (12 January) marked his first public appearance since an email from his principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, was leaked, inviting Downing Street staff to the gathering in May 2020.

The disclosure triggered an outpouring of public anger, particularly following the reports last year of staff attending parties in the run up to Christmas 2020.

Tory MPs have openly warned Mr Johnson that his position as Prime Minister will be untenable if he is found to have broken strict Covid rules.

Mr Johnson admitted he attended the event for around 25 minutes to “thank groups of staff” and believed “implicitly” that it was a work function.

He said “with hindsight” he should have sent staff back inside, but insisted he thought the event could have technically been within lockdown rules.

During Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), the PM Mr Johnson concluded that senior official Sue Gray should be allowed to complete her inquiry into a series of alleged parties held during lockdown in No 10 and Whitehall “so that the full facts can be established”.

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PM apologises after admitting attendance at No 10 party

Boris Johnson has apologised after admitting he attended a garden drinks party at Downing Street during the first lockdown in May 2020.

Addressing the Commons, Mr Johnson said he had "learned enough to know there were things we [the government] simply did not get right".

He said: “I must take responsibility.”

‘I thought it was a work event’

The PM said he believed the garden party held in Downing Street was a “work event” and admitted regret over the way the event was handled.

He told the Commons: “I want to apologise. I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months.

“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.

Boris Johnson apologised for attending the No 10 garden party (Photo: PA)Boris Johnson apologised for attending the No 10 garden party (Photo: PA)
Boris Johnson apologised for attending the No 10 garden party (Photo: PA)

“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.”

Sir Keir labels PM party excuse ‘ridiculous’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked if Boris Johnson would resign after labelling it “ridiculous” that the Prime Minister suggested he “didn’t realise he was at a party”.

The Prime Minister has apologised for allowing parties to go ahead in the Number 10 Downing Street garden, and said he should have recognised it was not in line with lockdown guidance.

He told the Commons: “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.

“With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them.

“I should have recognised that even if it 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.

“All I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others so that the full facts can be established.”

Labour leader brands PM’s defence ‘offence to the British public’

Sir Keir Starmer has slammed the Prime Minister for his defence against attending the No 10 Downing Street garden parent, branding it “offence to the British public”.

The Labour leader has called on Mr Johnson to “do the decent thing” and resign from his post.

Speaking in the Commons, he said: “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 boozy parties in Downing Street.

“Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?”

Sir Keir Starmer has slammed the Prime Minister for his defence over the No 10 party (Photo: Getty Images)Sir Keir Starmer has slammed the Prime Minister for his defence over the No 10 party (Photo: Getty Images)
Sir Keir Starmer has slammed the Prime Minister for his defence over the No 10 party (Photo: Getty Images)

The PM said he takes responsibility for the event and apologies that things were not done differently.

He responded: “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.”

Sir Keir: 'The party is over’

Sir Keir told Boris Johnson the “party is over” after calling on the Prime Minister to resign before he is kicked out by voters or Tory MPs.

The Labour leader said Mr Johnson’s attendance at Downing Street parties is “a clear breach of the rules” and “of the ministerial code”.

He said: “That code says ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation.

“The party’s over, Prime Minister. 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 PM said he understands it is the objective of the Labour leader to try to remove him from office, which he ‘appreciates and accepts’, but added that Sir Keir wait until the inquiry has concluded.

He replied: “May I humbly suggest to him that he should wait until the inquiry has concluded, he should study it for himself and I will certainly respond as appropriate – and I hope that he does – but in the meantime, yes, I certainly wish that things had happened differently on the evening of May 20 and I apologise for all the misjudgements that have been made for which I take full responsibility.”

Boris Johnson urged to “do the decent thing”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford urged Boris Johnson to “do the decent thing” and resign from his post.

Mr Blackford accused the PM of betraying the nation’s trust and disregarding the laws that were set out by his own government.

He made reference to a member of his constituency who lost his father during the pandemic, and due to Covid-19 restrictions, he was unable to be with him when he died.

Mr Blackford said: “A former member of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, Paul, wrote to me this morning.

“His father died without the love and support of his full family around them because they followed the regulations, Prime Minister.

“Paul said ‘as an ex-soldier, I know how to follow the rules but the Prime Minister has never followed any rules. He does what he wants, and he gets away with it every time’.

“The Prime Minister can’t get away with it again. Will the Prime Minister finally do the decent thing and resign or will his Tory MPs be forced to show him the door?”

The PM admitted regret over the handling of the No 10 garden party (Photo: PA)The PM admitted regret over the handling of the No 10 garden party (Photo: PA)
The PM admitted regret over the handling of the No 10 garden party (Photo: PA)

Mr Johnson responded: “I want to offer my condolences to his constituent who wrote to him and just to remind him of what I’ve said earlier, and with the greatest respect to him, I think that he should wait until the inquiry has concluded.”

PM branded a “man without shame”

Sir Keir branded Boris Johnson a “man without shame” after the PM admitted attending the garden party at No 10 during the first lockdown in May 2020.

The Labour leader highlighted the case of Hannah Brady, whose father Shaun died aged 55 after contracting Covid.

Ms Brady met the Prime Minister in the Downing Street garden last year and told him of her loss, to which Mr Johnson explained “he had done everything he could” to protect her dad.

Sir Keir said: “Looking back, what Hannah told me last night was this – she realises the Prime Minister had partied in that same garden the very day her dad’s death certificate was signed.

“What Hannah wants to know is this: does the Prime Minister understand why it makes her feel sick to think about the way he’s behaved?”

Mr Johnson replied: “I sympathise deeply with Hannah, with people who have suffered up and down this country during the pandemic, and I repeat that I wish things had been done differently on that evening, and I repeat my apology for all the misjudgments that may have been made, that were made on my watch in No 10 and across the government.

“I want to reassure the people of this country, including Hannah and her family, that we have been working to do everything we can to protect her and her family.”

Sir Keir dismissed the PM’s apology and said his defence “just isn’t working”.

The Labour leader added: “Everyone can see what happened, it started with reports of boozy parties in Downing Street during lockdown.

“The Prime Minister pretended that he had been assured there were no parties, how that fits with his defence now I do not know.

“Then the video landed, blowing the Prime Minister’s first defence out of the water, so then he pretended … he was sickened and furious about the parties, now it turns out he was at the parties all along.

“Can’t the Prime Minister see why the British public think he’s lying through his teeth?”

Mr Johnson admitted that he “should have done things differently” and believes the events “were within the rules”.

He said: “As I said to the House, I believe that the events in question were within the guidance and were within the rules, and that was certainly the assumption on which I operated … He should wait before he jumps to conclusions, a lawyer should respect the inquiry, I hope that he will wait until the facts are established and brought to this House.”

PM defends government response to pandemic

Boris Johnson has defended the UK government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as a whole, but admitted there have been “mistakes”.

In his final response to Sir Keir Starmer, the PM listed work the government has been doing on testing, antivirals and vaccines.

He said: “I think that most people looking objectively at what this government has delivered over the last 18 months would agree that … and I renew my contrition for the mistakes that have been made, but we have delivered the fastest vaccine and the fastest booster rollout in Europe, and the result is that across our whole of our United Kingdom, we have the record number of people back in work.”

“Whatever mistakes that have been made on my watch, for which I apologise and fully acknowledge, that is the work that has been going on in No 10 Downing Street.”

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