With arms folded and 1,000-yard stares from some, the Conservative backbenches were muted as Boris Johnson trotted out apology after apology over a “bring your own booze” gathering in No 10’s garden.
Mr Johnson had attempted to assert some sort of control over Prime Minister’s Questions from the start by making a statement about the events of May 20, 2020.
His bid to pre-empt questions from Sir Keir Starmer was listened to in silence, with opposition heckles shushed by others in the chamber during the almost three-minute statement.
What followed was a series of bruising exchanges with Sir Keir as the Labour leader claimed MPs had witnessed a “pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road” and laughter at the suggestion Mr Johnson “didn’t realise he was at a party”.
Questions from Sir Keir were met by loud cheers from the Labour benches, while Mr Johnson delivered his responses with continued heckling as he again outlined what happened during the event in the first lockdown – and urged Labour to wait for the findings of the inquiry.
The chamber was at its busiest for many months, with standing room only as some MPs watched on from the bar of the House – the boundary of the chamber beyond which guests and visitors may not pass when the Commons is at work, rather than anything else.
In the face of repeated attacks, Mr Johnson used the word “apologies” once, “apologise” seven times, “regret” four times, and even managed a “sorry” – although that was in response to a question on NHS waiting times.
As Mr Johnson continued to express his regret, there were not many shouts of support from his benches until the moment he finished his exchanges with Sir Keir by listing work done by those in No 10 on Covid testing, antivirals and vaccines.
But it was a far cry from the full-throated roars of approval often heard during PMQs as the two leaders trade blows.
There was some relief for Mr Johnson as he faced questions from Tory MPs on assisting Burnley’s levelling up ambitions, a “jobs revival” in the West Midlands, axing the BBC licence fee, buses in Stoke, and a fossil discovery in Rutland.
But the calls for a muted Mr Johnson to resign kept coming, including from SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford and Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey.
At one stage the Prime Minister said he had attended Prime Minister’s Questions to “make amends” and explain what happened on May 20 2020 – rather than simply answer questions in the usual way.
But for Labour MP Chris Bryant who chairs the Commons Committee on Standards, the explanation was not enough.
He told MPs: “I mean how stupid does the Prime Minister think the British people are?
“The worst of it is he’s already managed to completely destroy Allegra Stratton’s career, he’s tarnished the reputation of Lord Geidt, and now he’s making fools of every single MP who cheered him earlier, every single one who goes out on the radio and television to defend this shower of shenanigans.
“Would it not be absolutely despicable if, in the search for a scapegoat, some junior member of staff ends up losing their job, but he kept his?”
Mr Johnson declined the “party political advice” and once again stressed the need to wait for the findings of the inquiry, insisting such a request is in “all humility”.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in