Starmer demands resignation after Johnson apologises over BYOB party

© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Keir Starmer has demanded the resignation of Boris Johnson after the Prime Minister apologised in parliament today for attending a rule-breaking social gathering in Downing Street at the height of the pandemic.

Addressing the House of Commons before PMQs, after an email was revealed showing his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds inviting Downing Street staff to “some socially distanced drinks”, Johnson said: “I want to apologise.

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

“And I know the rage they feel with me, with the government I lead, when they think that within 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 that there were things we simply did not get right. And I must take responsibility.”

But the Prime Minister went on to offer justifications for the May 2020 party, including that the garden has been “in constant use because of the fresh air in stopping the virus” and that he believed the drinks were “a work event”.

After days of being asked whether he attended, Johnson has now stopped replying only with reference to the the Sue Gray inquiry into Downing Street parties during Covid, and has admitted today that he spent 25 minutes at the party.

He added: “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 be said technically to fall within the guidance – there would be millions and millions of people who would not see it that way.”

In a message to the public and to the House of Commons, Johnson said: “I offer my heartfelt apologies.” He concluded: “All I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry… so that the full facts can be established.”

In response to the statement before PMQs, Keir Starmer said: “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 called on Johnson to “do the decent thing and resign”.

Starmer said there had been “months of deceit and deception” and described today as “the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road”. Johnson replied: “I appreciate the point he is making about the event I attended.”

The Prime Minister reiterated that he apologises, but also that he thought it was a work event. He then said of Starmer: “I don’t think he should pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry.” The Labour leader said the apology was “pretty worthless”.

During PMQs, Starmer said the British public “think he’s lying through his teeth”. The Speaker ruled that this was acceptable as the Labour leader was not directly accusing Johnson of lying but talking about the attitude of the public.

Snap polling on Tuesday by both Savanta Comres and YouGov found that a majority of the public believe Johnson should resign as Prime Minister (66% and 56% respectively), including a large proportion of 2019 Tory supporters (42% and 33%).

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