Boris Johnson has said “nobody told me” the Number 10 garden party during lockdown was “against the rules”.
The prime minister said he “humbly apologises” to people for “misjudgements” that were made, but he would not have gone ahead with the event, to which 100 people were invited, on 20 May 2020 if he thought it broke the rules.
He said: “I’m saying categorically that nobody told me, nobody said this was something that was against the rules, doing something that wasn’t a work event because frankly, I can’t imagine why it would have gone ahead, or it would have been allowed to go ahead if it was against the rules.”
PM’s interview likened to a ‘bad amateur dramatics performance’
The pressure on the PM shows no signs of abating, however, with one Conservative MP telling Sky News politics producer Mollie Malone that things are “nearly there” in terms of reaching the required 54 letters to trigger a vote of no-confidence in his leadership.
They described the past weekend as a “turning point” and said they give the PM “a week” before he is gone.
Another told political correspondent Joe Pike that the PM looked “absolutely beaten” in his latest interview, describing his performance as “awful” and like a “bad amateur dramatics performance”.
Meanwhile, deputy political editor Sam Coates has been told that “lots of conversations” are happening between 2019 intake Tory MPs and there is a “resolve” among them that Mr Johnson should go.
“But there’s a fear if the vote of no confidence comes before the Sue Gray report is out then Boris Johnson might win, and he could be safe for a year. They think things might not move before then,” Coates added.
Mr Johnson’s latest comments come following claims from his former top adviser Dominic Cummings that the prime minister knew in advance about the Downing Street drinks party – which Number 10 has denied.
Mr Johnson said: “My memory is going out into the garden for about 25 minutes, which I implicitly thought was a work event, and talking to staff, thanking staff.
“I then went back to my office and continued my work.
“I carry full responsibility for what took place, nobody said to me ‘this is an event that’s against the rules, in breach of what we’re asking everybody else to do’.”
He added that is exactly what he has told the inquiry into several Downing Street lockdown events by top civil servant Sue Gray, who is due to report back next week.
PM: ‘I should have told people to go back indoors’
Mr Johnson admitted on reflection he “should have looked around and told people to go back indoors” after realising it was not a work event.
He said he wanted to “repeat my apologies for misjudgements I’ve made” after saying sorry in the House of Commons last week following mounting pressure over attending the event.
Asked about two parties alleged to have taken place on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, Mr Johnson looked down and appeared distressed.
“I deeply and bitterly regret that happened, I can only renew my apology to Her Majesty and to apologise for misjudgements made and for which I take full responsibility,” he said.
Mr Cummings yesterday claimed Mr Johnson gave the May 2020 garden party the go-ahead so lied to parliament when he said he did not know, but the PM denied this.
Mr Johnson also said he only saw the email invite for the event from his right-hand man Martin Reynolds the other day, when it was revealed to the media.
The PM is facing calls for his resignation, including from some of his own MPs, over the issue but has said the investigation into the parties must be allowed “space” to be concluded.
Labour says PM ‘clearly knows it’s end of the road’
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, reacting to the PM’s interview, said he “clearly knows it’s the end of the road”.
“He’s the prime minister, he set the rules, he didn’t need anyone to tell him that the party he attended broke them,” she said.
“If he had any respect for the British public, he would do the decent thing and resign.”
Senior Tories leave open idea PM would have to resign if code breached
Senior cabinet members have said they believe Mr Johnson, but both Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Chancellor Rishi Sunak pointed out the ministerial code “is clear on these matters”.
The code says: “It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.
“Ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the prime minister.”
Mr Sunak, when asked if he supported the PM unequivocally, got up and left without answering.
Before that, asked if he believed the PM, he said: “Of course I do, the prime minister set out his understanding of this matter in parliament last week and I’d refer you to his words.
“As you know, Sue Gray is conducting an enquiry into this matter and I fully support the prime minister’s request for patience while that inquiry concludes.”
The chancellor said he would not “get into hypotheticals” following Mr Cummings’ claim Mr Johnson lied to parliament.
“The ministerial code is clear on these matters,” he added.
And Mr Raab told the BBC if a minister lies and it is deliberate it is “normally” a resigning matter, under the ministerial code.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman also said the code “is very clear when it comes to knowingly misleading the House” and the PM “abides by that, and we fully support it”.
Asked if the PM would resign if he misled parliament, the spokesman said: “It’s important not to jump ahead.”
He also denied Mr Johnson had ever lied to parliament.