Boris Johnson has apologised after footage emerged of senior Number 10 officials joking and laughing about a Downing Street Christmas party last year, but told MPs he has been “repeatedly assured” no such gathering took place.
“I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing No 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures,” Mr Johnson told the Commons at the beginning of PMQs.
“I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules because I was also furious to see that clip.”
PM promises disciplinary action if aides broke rules
The PM said he apologised “unreservedly for the offence that it has caused” and “for the impression that it gives”.
But he maintained: “I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no COVID rules were broken.”
Mr Johnson said the cabinet secretary would “report back as soon as possible” on whether that was the case and if rules were breached “then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved”.
And he agreed to provide the Metropolitan Police with any information the government has about parties in Downing Street. The force has said it is aware of the footage.
Johnson accused of taking public for ‘fools’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the PM’s apology “raises more questions than answers” and told MPs he had been caught “red-handed”.
“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. It is obvious what happened,” he told MPs.
Sir Keir claimed “millions of people” who followed the rules last Christmas “now think the prime minister was taking them for fools, that they were lied to”.
The PM, who at one point accused the Labour leader of trying to “play politics”, said an investigation was needed because “there is a risk of doing a grave injustice to people who have frankly obeyed the rules”.
Matt Fowler, co-founder of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, accused the PM of trying to “gaslight” bereaved families.
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, said Mr Johnson should quit as he “can no longer lead on the most pressing issue facing these islands”.
The Liberal Democrats have called on the government to publish any legal advice it received on the issue of Christmas parties allegedly held in Number 10, amid suggestions the regulations did not apply to Crown Property.
There has also been a backlash in the PM’s own party with Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross saying Mr Johnson should resign if he has misled Parliament on the matter.
Aides joked about ‘cheese and wine’ event
The footage, obtained by ITV News, is reported to be of a rehearsal for a TV media briefing from 22 December last year – four days after an alleged Christmas party took place in Number 10.
Senior Number 10 aides are heard jokingly referring to a “business meeting” and a “cheese and wine” event.
London had been put into Tier 3 restrictions on 16 December, preventing mixing indoors between households.
Claims of further parties
Asked to repeat a previous Number 10 denial that “there was no party”, the PM’s press secretary told journalists on Wednesday: “You have our previous statement on this. Now, the prime minister has asked the cabinet secretary to establish the facts.”
The PM’s spokesman did not deny that Mr Case himself may have been at such a gathering, although government sources later confirmed to Sky News that he was not.
However, later on Wednesday Ms Stratton announced her resignation to the PM less than 20 hours after the video emerged.
Trying to hold back the tears, former ITV journalist Ms Stratton offered her “profound apologies” for joking about the alleged party during a rehearsal for a news conference in which other aides asked her about the gathering.
Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser, has claimed there was also a flat party in Number 10 on 13 November.
It has also been alleged that Mr Johnson gave a speech at a leaving party for a senior aide on 27 November.
And then-education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech at an event on 10 December.