Boris Johnson ‘apologises unreservedly’ over No 10 Christmas party video
Boris Johnson has said he “apologises unreservedly” for a video showing Downing Street officials joking about a staff party that took place amid the peak of lockdown last December, and has promised to hand over any evidence of law-breaking to police.
But at a noisy prime minister’s questions, Johnson said he had been repeatedly assured that no party took place, and that he had been “shocked” by the emergence of the video.
Questioning Johnson, Keir Starmer expressed incredulity at the protestations of ignorance, saying the incident had left the prime minister without “the moral authority” to ask the public to follow Covid rules.
PMQs was the first government response to the video, uncovered by ITV, in which Johnson’s then-press secretary, Allegra Stratton, and other No 10 staff talked jokingly on 22 December last year about a staff party four days earlier, and how media questions about it could be countered.
Before taking any questions, Johnson told the Commons he was “also furious to see that clip”, saying: “I can understand how infuriating it would be to think that the people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules.”
He continued: “I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country, and apologise for the impression that it gives.”
But to jeers from opposition benches, Johnson said he had no personal knowledge of any party: “I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party, and that no Covid rules were broken.”
He had instructed Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, to look into the matter, Johnson said, adding: “I have asked the cabinet secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible, and it goes without saying that if those rules were broken, then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.”
Starmer, the Labour leader, asked Johnson if he would be “handing over everything the government knows about parties in Downing Street to the Metropolitan police?”
Johnson replied: “Of course we will do that.”
In yet another escalation of what is fast becoming a political crisis for Johnson, as he was speaking at PMQs, Dominic Cummings accused the prime minister of hosting lockdown-breaking parties in his Downing Street flat.
“Will the CABSEC [Case] also be asked to investigate the *flat* party on Fri 13 Nov, the other flat parties, & the flat’s ‘bubble’ policy…?” he tweeted.
That date – when England was in full lockdown – was the day that Cummings, Johnson’s chief adviser, had been sacked by the prime minister. Cummings has already accused Johnson of lying about both staff parties and ones held in his official flat.
Starting his questions at PMQs, Starmer said it was not credible for Johnson to pretend he had known nothing: “They knew there was a party, they knew it was against the rules, they knew they couldn’t admit it, and they thought it was funny.”
The Labour leader used one question to highlight the case of a woman whose mother had fallen gravely ill with Covid last December and had not visited her before she died.
The woman wanted to know, Starmer said, “why did the prime minister expect her to accept that the rules allowed a Downing Street party but didn’t allow her to visit her dying mother?”
Starmer also cited the example of the Queen, who sat alone during the funeral of Prince Philip: “Leadership, sacrifice – that’s what gives leaders the moral authority to lead. Does the prime minister think he has the moral authority to lead and to ask the British people to stick to the rules?”
Johnson responded by reiterating his apology but also accusing Starmer and Labour of “playing politics” and seeking to create confusion over Covid rules. Starmer replied: “That’s so desperate and even his own side can see it.”