Boris Johnson has admitted attending an event in the Downing Street garden during the first lockdown and apologised to the nation while arguing the gathering could “technically” be said to have not broken any rules.
Johnson’s version of events was not accepted by Keir Starmer, with the Labour leader saying the prime minister should step down. “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?” Starmer said.
In a much-anticipated and carefully worded statement just before prime minister’s questions, Johnson acknowledged the mass public anger after an email emerged inviting No 10 staff to the event on 20 May 2020, which was billed as social.
“Mr Speaker, I want to apologise,” he told a packed Commons. “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.”
He said: “I know the rage they feel with me, and with the government I lead, when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules were not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.”
Johnson said that on the evening concerned he joined the event for about 25 minutes from around 6pm, saying that with the No 10 garden being used as “an extension of the office” amid lockdown and he believed it was a work event.
“With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside,” Johnson added, while arguing that the event “could be said, technically, to fall within the guidance” of the time.
Johnson said he accepted many would disagree, adding: “To them, and to this house, I offer my heartfelt apology.”
Johnson said it was important that Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating the gathering and series of other allegedly lockdown-breaching events in No 10 and elsewhere in government, be allowed to complete her report.
More details soon …