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by Louise Wilson
12 January 2022
Prime Minister apologises for attending Downing Street party

PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Prime Minister apologises for attending Downing Street party

The Prime Minister has confirmed he did attend a party in the garden of Number 10 on 20 May 2020 when the country was in lockdown.

He said he believed it was a work event and offered his apologies for not preventing it from taking place.

Faced with calls for his resignation from Labour leader Keir Starmer and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, Boris Johnson urged MPs to wait for the inquiry being led by Sue Gray to be completed.

But Starmer said the PM’s excuse was “so ridiculous that its actually offensive” and said the public believed he was “lying through his teeth”.

And Blackford said Johnson was “accused of betraying the nation’s trust, of treating the public with contempt, of breaking the laws set by his own government”.

On Monday evening, ITV published an email from the Prime Minister’s private secretary Martin Reynolds inviting Downing Street staff to drinks after work on 20 May 2020.

It said: “After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening.”

At the time, the UK was still under strict lockdown restrictions which prevented people meeting more than one person outdoors.

The email comes after a string of reports of parties taking place in November and December 2020 when London was in lockdown, leading to the Prime Minister commissioning the inquiry.

Johnson previously denied knowledge of any parties and said photographs which previously emerged of him in the Downing Street garden was of a business meeting.

But addressing MPs in the House on Wednesday, he confirmed he briefly attended the party in May to “thank groups of staff”.

Johnson said: “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 that they have been through, unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or able to do the things they love.

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

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

“Number 10 is a big department with the garden an extension of the office, which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus, and when I went into that garden just after 6pm on 20 May 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.

“But Mr Speaker, with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them. And I should have recognised that, even if it could be said to technically fall within the guidance, there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way; people who suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from 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.”

Starmer labelled the apology “pretty worthless”, adding the party was a “clear breach of the rules” and that the Prime Minister had breached the ministerial code by misleading parliament.

He said: “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?”

And Blackford said the statement proved Johnson “feels no shame for his actions”. He urged Conservative MPs to oust the Prime Minister, adding: “The public overwhelmingly think that the Prime Minister should resign. Trust has been lost and the public will not forgive or forget.”

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