Sketch: Boris Johnson furious about the party that never was
The Prime Minister is sorry for the video of his own staff joking about a Christmas party that definitely did not happen. He is “furious” about it, he says.
But he’s sorrier and more furious that it was leaked in the first place.
After days of denial that no such party took place in December last year – while London as a whole was in lockdown – that video published by ITV News seemed to suggest there had been a party after all.
Yet despite the evidence, Boris Johnson told MPs he had been “repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party, and that no Covid rules were broken”.
But also, “there will be consequences for those involved if those rules were broken” once everything has been fully investigated.
Number 10 has now declined to say whether that man who will be leading that investigation, Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service Simon Case, was at the party.
But Boris Johnson definitely wasn’t. In fact, he didn’t even know about the party that took place at Downing Street. Where he lives.
To be fair to our reliable and trustworthy premiere, he has probably been sleeping with earplugs in since the arrival of baby Wilfred to avoid having to do the night feeds. It’s entirely possible a not-a-party was happening right under his feet that he just couldn’t hear.
Keir Starmer is unconvinced. Practically vibrating with
rage slight annoyance, he told Johnson that his statement at the top of PMQs – in a failed bid to head off such questions, apparently – “raised more questions than answers”. “Millions of people now think the Prime Minister was taking them for fools and that they were lied to. They’re right, weren’t they?” he asked.
Not looking Starmer in the eye, the PM repeated that he felt “sick and furious” about the video.
Later, finding a bit of fire, he tried to turn the tables on the Labour leader by accusing him of “playing politics”. Perhaps he would also accuse his Scottish colleague Douglas Ross (who has said there are “serious questions to answer”) or his former leader in Scotland Ruth Davidson (who said “none of this is remotely defensible”) of also playing politics.
Starmer is not angry in the Prime Minister. Just disappointed.
Ian Blackford, meanwhile, is angry. Very angry. “Trust in leadership is a matter of life and death,” he told the Commons, looking ready to bust with excitement about recent events. The non-party, of course, gives him an excuse to call for Johnson’s resignation. Again.
“The Prime Minister has a duty, the only right and moral choice left to him, it is for his resignation. When can we expect it?” he asked innocently.
Much to his chagrin, the PM replied: “I am going to get on the with the job.” Whether that job is as Prime Minister or the president of the most exclusive cheese and wine club in London is unclear.
Knowing he was getting nowhere, Blackford turned to the Tory backbenches. Gesticulating at them wildly, he said: “Every member of the Conservative benches must now decide, is this the man to lead these islands when lives are at stake?”
Rishi Sunak nods wildly, practically turning into Churchill the dog. “Oh, yes!” his body language screamed.
Blackford continued: “I’ve got nothing left to say to a man we cannot trust […] If he doesn’t resign, then he must be removed.”
Johnson was having none of it, again reverting to the accusation opposition parties were playing politics (as oppose to playing at being a real leader of the country).
All the rules were followed, he continued to insist. Perhaps it was a business meeting – perhaps there was a poor finance intern invited to sit in the corner, filing reports while the higher-ups got blottered, for plausible deniability about it being a party. And now all of them are in the firing line. Including that poor intern.
Johnson then attempted to divert attention to the one thing his government has got right in recent months – the vaccine rollout. No matter how many cats the government shoots, the vaccines are a lifeboat. So he thinks.
But a Tory backbencher in the room is not deceived. He said reports earlier today that new Covid restrictions may be reintroduced is a “diversionary tactic” from the social gathering that wasn’t a party. The business event that definitely didn’t involve Secret Santa.
The PM ended the brutal session with a line that may haunt him for a long time to come: “I take full personal responsibility for everything this government has done.” We’ll all believe that when we see it.