Boris Johnson apologises for No 10 staff joking about party – but still won’t admit it took place

PM asks cabinet secretary to investigate, but says he was ‘assured’ no gathering took place

Adam Forrest
Wednesday 08 December 2021 12:13
Boris Johnson apologises for No 10 staff joking about lockdown Christmas party

Boris Johnson has apologised for the “offence” cause by the leaked footage which shows Downing Street staff joking about a Christmas party at No 10 last year.

The prime minister said he had asked the cabinet secretary to investigate claims of a festive party on 18 December last year – telling MPs at PMQs that he was “furious” at footage of aides laughing about the issue.

“I understand and share the anger of No 10 staff making light of lockdown measures. I was also furious to see that clip, I apologise unreservedly for the offence it has caused up and down the country and the impression it gives,” Mr Johnson said.

But the prime minister still refused to admit a festive gathering had taken place at No 10. “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken.”

Mr Johnson added: “I’ve asked the cabinet secretary to establish all the facts and report back as soon as possible – if those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary rules.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the PM’s apology “raises more questions than answers” – reminding Mr Johnson that he and his ministers “spent the week telling the British public there was no party and all guidance was followed completely”.

Sir Keir added: “Millions of people now think the prime minister was taking them for fools, that they were lied to. They are right, aren’t they?”

Mr Johnson replied: “I apologise for the impression that has been given that staff in Downing Street take this less than seriously – I am sickened myself and furious,” before repeating that he had been personally “assured” by his staff there was no party.

The leaked video shared by ITV – recorded on 22 December last year – shows then-press secretary Allegra Stratton appearing to joke about an illicit party at No 10 during a rehearsal for televised daily government media briefings.

The prime minister did agree to hand over “everything the government knows” about potentially illegal Christmas parties to the police following pressure from the Labour leader. “Of course we will do that,” said Mr Johnson.

Mr Johnson was also asked if there was a party at Downing Street on November 13 following a shock new claim made by Dominic Cummings.

Shortly after PMQs began, his former adviser asked on Twitter if the cabinet secretary would “also be asked to investigate the *flat* party on Friday 13 November”.

Asked by Labour MP Catherine West if there was festive gathering on that date, the prime minister replied: “No – but I’m sure that whatever happened the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times.”

Backbench Tory MP William Wragg accused Mr Johnson of using a “diversionary tactic” – with the PM and senior ministers today expected to agree on the introduction of tighter ‘plan B’ Covid restrictions at an emergency meeting. “No decisions will be taken without consulting the cabinet,” Mr Johnson said.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said Mr Johnson should resign if he misled parliament about a Christmas party at Downing Street – saying the PM still had “serious questions to answer on this issue”.

The MP and MSP said: “No-one should continue in their post if they mislead parliament in that way.”

Ruth Davidson, the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said she was not impressed by Downing Street’s “pathetic” position. The peer said on Twitter that her Tory colleagues are “furious at this too”.

She said “today’s ‘we’ll investigate what we’ve spent a week saying didn’t happen and discipline staff for rules we continue to say weren’t broken’ was pathetic”.

Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale earlier warned the “game’s up” for MR Johnson if he was found to deliberately mislead parliament over any Christmas party, while Tory peer Baroness Warsi also called for anyone found to have attended the festive gathering to resign.

Meanwhile, SNP leader at Westminster Ian Blackford called on Mr Johnson to resign – or for Tory MPs to oust him – over the party controversy, claiming the PM “can no longer lead on the most pressing issue facing these islands”.

Mr Blackford said: “It’s clear this prime minister has lost the support of the public. It is clear this PM who desperately intends to cling to power. It is time for members in this house to act, if he doesn’t resign, then he must be removed.”

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