Boris Johnson has apologised for attending a “bring your own booze” party in his own back garden, but says he “believed implicitly it was a work event”.
The admission and apology came during a dramatic Prime Minister’s Questions after a week of damning revelations about government staff having parties during COVID lockdowns.
The UK government has faced public criticism in recent weeks, as a string of revelations about parties held for government staff while the general public were told not to socialise.
Johnson admitted attending a party of up to 50 people that took place on the 20th of May 2020 when the UK was under a severe lockdown, with members of the public told that they could only see one other person from another household outside in a socially distanced manner.
This week it was explosively revealed that Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds invited Downing Street staff to the party with an email saying, “After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of this lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening.”
“Please join us from 6PM and bring your own booze!”
Johnson had previously failed to confirm that he was present at the party, responding to questions over his attendance by saying that it is, “the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray.”
But at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, he admitted that he attended.
“I want to apologise,” said Johnson. “I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months… and I know the rage they feel with me, and with the government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself, the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.”
“I went into that garden, just after six on the 20th of May 2020, thanked groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later, to continue working.”
However, he did not admit to knowingly attending a party that his secretary had told people to bring booze to. “I believed implicitly that this was a work event”, he said.
Labour leader Keir Starmer questioned Johnson’s integrity, listing his previous misleading denials. “This just isn’t working Prime Minister,” said Starmer. “It started with reports of boozy parties in Downing Street during lockdown. The Prime Minister pretended that he had been assured there were no parties. How that fits with his defence I do not know. Then the video [of Allegra Stratton] landed, blowing the prime minister's first defence out of the water. So then he pretended – he pretended he was sickened and furious about parties. Now, it turns out, he was at the parties all along, called the Prime Minister see why the British public thinks he's lying through his teeth?”
Johnson said that Starmer shouldn't pre-empt the result of an investigation by Sue Gray and that as a lawyer, Starmer should “respect the results of the inquiry”
Cutting a deflated figure, Johnson’s responses drew laughter from the opposition benches, leaving Starmer to ask, “Will the British public kick him out, will his party kick him out, or will he do the decent thing and resign?”