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Fury as Boris Johnson apologises for attending garden party in lockdown

"The party is over, prime minister" Sir Keir Starmer leads calls for Boris Johnson to resign after his apology

By Rolling Stone UK

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson (Picture: Alamy)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologised and admitted he attended a Downing Street garden party for “25 minutes” during lockdown.

The event is said to have taken place on May 20, 2020, in the midst of England’s first national lockdown. Scotland Yard has confirmed it is contact with the Cabinet Office about the garden party.

Mr Johnson addressed the Commons following pressure from MPs, including his own party. Pressure has been mounting on the PM to confirm whether he had been present at the Downing Street drinks party, at a time when social gatherings were banned.

Johnson said he had “learned enough to know there were things we simply did not get right”.

The Prime Minister admitted he “went into that garden just after 6pm on 20 May 2020 to thank groups of staff” and said he went back into the office “25 minutes later”. He told MPs: “I believed implicitly that this was a work event.” Johnson continued: “With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them.”

The event took place after the PM’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds sent an email inviting colleagues to “socially distanced drinks” and told them to “bring your own booze”.

Following his admission, opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson should “do the decent thing and resign”, as well as describing the excuse as “so ridiculous that it is actually offensive to the British people”. He added it was “a clear breach of the ministerial code” and said Johnson is a “pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road”.

Former chief adviser to the PM Dominic Cummings also responded to the explanation, saying the PM’s apology and excuses are “bullshit” as the alternative is to “admit he broke rules + resign”.

Addressing the commons, The PM also repeated his previous comments about the ongoing investigation into the party – which is being headed by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

Mr Johnson told the Commons: “I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months. I know the anguish they have been through – unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love,”

Acknowledging public anger following the announcement, he continued: “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.

“And 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.”

He also explained why the garden was used: “Number 10 is a big department with a garden as an extension of the office, which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus.”

Starmer continued to rally against Mr Johnson, saying: “The party is over prime minister. When the prime minister’s former health secretary broke the rules, he resigned and the prime minister said he was right to do so.

“When the prime minister’s spokesperson laughed about the rules being broken, she resigned, and the prime minister accepted that resignation. Why does the prime minister still think that the rules don’t apply to him?”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey also agreed with Starmer’s calls for the prime minister’s resignation, saying it is “for the good of the country”, and said his “attempt to apologise” was “shameful”.

Labour MP Jess Phillips added on Twitter: “They just cannot take any responsibility. Apparently it was us in the Labour Party who made Boris Johnson have party after party. Apparently it’s our fault. Where do they find these people”.

She also asked: “If the Justice secretary was at the party how can any court in the land be taking cases of COVID breaches?” and “Imagine if we’d all had parties to thank our key workers or the hundreds of Yardley volunteers who were delivering food to people.”