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Boris Johnson apologises over attending 'bring your own booze' Downing Street party

David Hughes, Patrick Daly and Gavin Cordon, PA

 

Boris Johnson has apologised for attending a "bring your own booze" gathering in the garden of No 10 during England's first lockdown as he battled to save his premiership.

The British prime minister acknowledged the public "rage" over the incident but insisted he thought it could have been technically within the rules.

Mr Johnson told MPs that he attended the May 20 2020 gathering for around 25 minutes to "thank groups of staff".

"I believed implicitly that this was a work event," he said.

But "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 have been said technically to fall within the guidance - there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way".

Mr Johnson acknowledged that that included "people who have suffered terribly, people who were forbidden for meeting loved ones at all inside or outside", adding: "To them and to this House, I offer my heartfelt apologies."

He said senior official Sue Gray should be allowed to complete her inquiry into a series of alleged parties held during lockdown in No 10 and Whitehall "so that the full facts can be established".

Mr Johnson was speaking after DUP MP Jim Shannon yesterday appeared to break down in tears after recalling the death of his mother-in-law while questioning a British government minister over allegations of Covid rule-breaking in Downing Street during the pandemic.

Labour leader Keir Starmer today asked Mr Johnson if he is now "going to do the decent thing and resign".

Sir Keir said: "There we have it. After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road. His defence ... that he didn't realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it's actually offensive to the British public.

"He's finally been forced to admit what everyone knew, that when the whole country was locked down he was hosting boozing parties in Downing Street. Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?"

Boris Johnson said: "I appreciate the point that he's making about the event that I attended. I want to repeat that I thought it was a work event and I regret very much that we did not do things differently that evening.

"I take responsibility and I apologise. But as for his political point, I don't think that he should pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry. He will have a further opportunity, I hope, to question me as soon as possible."

Mr Johnson's principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, had invited colleagues to "socially distanced drinks" on May 20 2020 to "make the most of the lovely weather" - urging them to "bring your own booze".

British prime minister Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture by House of Commons/PA Wire 

The British prime minister acknowledged public anger: "I know the rage they feel with me and with the government I lead when they think 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 there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility."

Mr Johnson has faced growing Tory anger over the situation and Cabinet minister Simon Hart acknowledged it is damaging the party and the running of government.

"There's a lot of frustration and bafflement about all of this, and I completely understand," the Welsh Secretary said.

"I've not met anybody who is not deeply, deeply conscious of the effect that this has on people's attitudes to not just the political party ... but the government and the smooth running of the nation."

The embattled prime minister also faced calls to quit from the SNP's Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, who said if he "has no sense of shame, then the Tory backbenchers must act to remove him".

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: ""Will the Prime Minister, for the good of the country, accept that the party is over and decide to resign?"

Labour's Chris Bryant, chairman of the Commons Standards Committee, questioned the prime minister's excuse that he "didn't spot that he was at a social event", adding: "How stupid does the prime minister think that British people are?"

The Commons chamber was packed in anticipation of Mr Johnson's response to the leaked email about the May 20 2020 event - although Chancellor Rishi Sunak, viewed as a potential successor as Tory leader, was notably absent on a visit to Devon.

Mr Johnson's former aide, Dominic Cummings, now a prominent critic of the prime minister, said the claim that the event was "technically within the rules" is "bulls**t".

But he said Mr Johnson's only alternative would be to admit that he broke the rules and resign.

In a sign of the public clamour for answers from the prime minister, ITV's This Morning cut live to the House of Commons to hear his apology.

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