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Downing Street parties: What was said during urgent questions in House of Commons about alleged gatherings?

An urgent question was asked in the House of Commons after an email surfaced showing more than 100 members of Downing Street staff were invited to a gathering during lockdown

Labour submitted an urgent question on Tuesday (11 January) to the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, despite Mr Johnson, and many of his fellow Tory MPs, failing to make an appearance in the chamber.

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Other MPs from across the house also stated their dismay at the apparent rule-breaking, which allegedly saw around 40 of those invited to the gathering meet in the Downing Street garden on 20 May. 2020.

Angela Rayner addressed the House of Commons on the situation. (Credit: PA)

What did Angela Rayner say about the Downing Street parties?

Angela Rayner, who is representing the Labour party in the Commons due to Sir Keir Starmer isolating after testing positive for Covid-19, chose to ask an urgent question in parliament today.

The deputy leader tore into the Prime Minister, who failed to show in the House of Commons today, and blasted him on allegations he had been aware and attended a Covid rule-breaking party in May of 2020.

She said: “It is incredibly disappointing, but not unsurprising, that the Prime Minister of whom I asked this question is not here today despite not having any official engagements.

“I think his absence speaks volumes as does his smirks on the media, the public have already drawn their own conclusions. He can run but he can’t hide.”

Downing Street and Mr Johnson have so far refused to deny he was in attendance at the party, instead insisting they will not comment until the conclusion of the internal investigation being led by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

Ms Rayner pointed the question directly to an absent Mr Johnson, saying: “There’s no need for an investigation into the simple central question today: did the Prime Minister attend the event in the Downing Street garden on the 20 May 2020? It won’t wash to blame this on a few junior civil servants, the Prime Minister sets the tone.

“If the Prime Minister was there, surely he knew. The invitation was sent to 100 staff, many of them his own most personal senior appointees, this was organised in advance, so did the Prime Minister know about the event beforehand and did he give his permission for it go ahead?

“And if so, did he believe this event was (in) keeping with the restrictions at the time and the guidelines, and was the chief medical officer consulted before it went ahead?”

The deputy leader then directed a question towards Chancellor Rishi Sunak, asking: “What did the Chancellor know about the party given that he lives and works next door? Can the minister confirm that no other ministers were present? Can I ask the minister here today does he still believe the Prime Minister to be a man of honour and integrity?”

A sparse Tory backbench was seen in the House of Commons after allegation that the Prime Minister broke lockdown rules. (Credit: PS)

In attendance on behalf of the Tories was Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis, who replied: “It is not routine for the Prime Minister to answer urgent questions before this House, his ministers are appointed to do so, but he also attends this House more often than anyone else to answer questions and will be doing so tomorrow in the normal way at Prime Minister’s Question time.”

“There is a need for an investigation, she said there wasn’t. There is a need and that need is clear.

“She asks if I have confidence in the Prime Minister’s integrity and honour, and I do.”

What did others say in parliament about the situation?

Fellow MPs took the decision to speak in parliament about their dismay at the allegations of a party, at a time when British citizens were under strict lockdown rules.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford accused the Prime Minister of creating “one rule for the rest of us and another rule for those in Number 10.”

Ian Blackford in House of Commons today. (Credit: PA)

He said: “The harsh reality is that people round these islands watched loved ones dying, and missing funerals, and the PM and his staff partied behind the walls of his private garden.”

“The Prime Minister should be here to answer these serious questions. Where is the Government frontbench, and indeed where is the Government backbenches?

Mr Blackford said that Mr Johnson “doesn’t deserve the respect and trust of the people of these islands”, adding: “If he won’t do the decent thing and recognise that he ought to resign, I say to the minister and I say to the Conservative backbenchers that they are going to have to do what the Prime Minister has failed to do and force him from office, and do it now.”

Afzal Khan, Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, spoke of the death of his mother around the same time of the alleged gathering in question.

He said: “My mum died of Covid in March 2020. She died alone in hospital while I sat in the car outside trying to be as close to her as I could.

“Even burdened with our grief, my family obeyed the rules. Just three days after the Downing Street party we marked a solemn Eid, the first without my lovely mum.”

The DUP’s Jim Shannon broke down while speaking about the death of his mother-in-law from Covid.

Jim Shannon was emotional after speaking in parliament. (Credit: PA)

The MP for Strangford said: “In Northern Ireland we reached the milestone of 3,000 deaths due to Covid just last week. Including my mother-in-law, who died alone.”

He struggled to finish his statement, before demanding that the government offer “full and complete disclosure” to grieving families.

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