Boris Johnson apologised yet again for breaking his own COVID rules on Tuesday, but said that he still won’t resign over the scandal.
In his first address to Parliament since he was fined by the police, he claimed he was not aware that by attending a birthday party thrown for him in June 2020 he was in breach of the lockdown rules imposed by his own government.
Johnson told MPs he had received a fine, which he had paid, and that “in all humility” he apologised at the time and would apologise now.
“Let me also say not by way of mitigation or excuse, but purely because it explained my previous words in this house, that it did not occur to me then, or subsequently, that a gathering in the Cabinet Room just before a vital meeting on COVID strategy could amount to a breach of the rules,” he said.
Johnson said he would remain in office because of public anger at him and because of of the war in Ukraine.
“It is precisely because I know that so many people are angry and disappointed that I feel an even greater sense of obligation to deliver on the priorities of the British people and to respond in the best traditions of our country to Putin's barbaric onslaught against Ukraine,” he said.
The statement was the latest development in the scandal which has seen Johnson and his Chancellor Rishi Sunak fined, as well as Johnson’s wife Carrie. The “partygate” scandal, over a number of parties held on government property in 2020 at the height of COVID restrictions when people were instructed to limit social contact, has dogged Johnson for months.
The leader of the opposition Keir Starmer responded saying, “What a joke.” He called the Prime Minister “dishonest” and “incapable of changing.”
Starmer also criticised the defences of Johnson made by his ministers.
“A minister on the radio this morning saying it's the same as a speeding ticket – No, it's not,” said Starmer, referring to Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis’s appearance on Sky News on Tuesday morning. “No one has ever broken down in tears because they couldn't drive faster than 20 miles an hour outside of school. Don't insult the public with this nonsense.”
Johnson’s speech comes as the Labour party drew level with the Conservatives in a YouGov poll asking respondents which is the best party to manage the UK’s economy.
Last week, Number 10 confirmed that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, would receive fines for breaking coronavirus rules.
Johnson was fined for attending a birthday party thrown for him in June 2020 in the Cabinet Room where 30 people are thought to have attended.
The Prime Minister initially denied he had breached any coronavirus laws, later changing his position.
Johnson has faced repeated calls for his resignation. Starmer said that Johnson had “repeatedly lied to the British public” and must resign, as did the former Conservative Minister Rory Stewart.
A debate on whether Johnson lied to the House of Commons will take place on Thursday.