PMQs: Boris Johnson apologises for Downing Street party video
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The Prime Minister was forced to issue an apology in the Commons after shocking footage emerged on Tuesday night of Downing Street staff joking about a “fictional” party in Number 10 last December as Britons were plunged into lockdown. In the video obtained by ITV News, Allegra Stratton, who was the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman, could be seen laughing while she rehearsed questions on December 22 about a party allegedly held four days earlier.
Ms Stratton – who has since resigned – was heard saying “it was not socially distanced”, while another aide stated “it wasn’t a party, it was cheese and wine”.
Mr Johnson faced the music at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) after spending days insisting all Covid rules were adhered to.
The Prime Minister said he had been given assurances by staff members that no rules were broken, but nevertheless apologised “unreservedly”.
He told the Commons: “I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing No 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures, and I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules because I was also furious to see that clip.
“I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country, and I apologise for the impression that it gives.
“But I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken, and that is what I have been repeatedly assured.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister’s apology “raises more questions than answers” as he had been “caught red-handed”.
At the dispatch box, he added: “Millions of people now think the Prime Minister was taking them for fools, that they were lied to.”
The Prime Minister has tasked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to launch an investigation into the matter.
Further revelations emerged on Wednesday afternoon of other alleged breaches by Number 10 over the lockdown period.
Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former top aide, suggested Mr Case’s investigation should look at parties in the Downing Street flat.
He claimed there was also a gathering in Number 10 on November 13.
It has also been alleged that Mr Johnson gave a speech at a leaving party for a senior aide on November 27.
Downing Street has said Mr Case’s investigation would only look at events related to December 18.
Speaking at a Downing Street briefing to announce new Covid restrictions, Mr Johnson said the Cabinet Secretary may look into other alleged events.
He said: “As far as I’m concerned, all the evidence I can see is that people in this building have stayed within the rules.
“If that turns out not to be the case, and people wish to bring allegations to my attention or to the police or whoever, then of course there will be proper sanctions.”
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Mr Johnson added: “He (Mr Case) is looking at the issue of December 18, he may wish to look at other things but that is a matter, frankly, for him.”
Just hours before the Covid press conference, Ms Stratton announced her resignations and broke down in tears when speaking to reporters outside her London home.
She said: “To all of you who lost loved ones, who endured intolerable loneliness and who struggled with your businesses, I am truly sorry and this afternoon I am offering my resignation to the Prime Minister.”
The fallout from the Christmas party scandal shows no signs of going away and is set to dominate the agenda ahead of the North Shropshire by-election on December 16.
Martin Daubney, Deputy Leader of the Reclaim Party, who is standing in the seat, claimed the “Tory vote is absolutely collapsing”.
The former Brexit Party MEP compared the situation to the European elections in 2019, where the Tories came fifth after receiving less than 10 percent of the overall vote.
Mr Daubney said: “This country is living under a new epidemic – an epidemic of hypocrisy.
“While they stopped us from seeing our dying parents, they were having a Downing Street jolly. It’s one rule for them, one rule for us. They’re just laughing at us now.
“The Tories deserve to get obliterated in the forthcoming North Shropshire by-election where I’m standing as a candidate for the Reclaim Party.
“The Tory vote is absolutely collapsing in North Shropshire. We’ve seen leaked messages from Tory canvassers who are admitting their vote has halved.
Halved! And that’s in what was previously thought of as the safest of safe Tory seats.
“I haven’t seen the Conservative vote fall away like this since the Brexit Party wiped out the Tories in the EU elections in May 2019. It’s utter carnage – it’s turning into a by-election bloodbath for Boris.”
The vote in North Shropshire was triggered after Tory MP Owen Patterson resigned after being caught up in a lobbying scandal.
Mr Daubney claimed it could be the end of Mr Johnson’s reign if the Tories were to lose a seat with a majority of 22,949 from the 2019 general election.
He added: “But the bigger question is, are we one week from seeing the beginnings of a Tory revolt, that starts in North Shropshire, then sweeps across the land?
“For Boris Johnson, that would be a true nightmare before Christmas.”
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