London: Boris Johnson has faced renewed calls to resign as British Prime Minister after confirming to Parliament that he attended a garden party at Number 10 during the first lockdown in England, claiming that he thought it was a work event and not in breach of coronavirus rules.
Johnson had until Wednesday avoided answering whether he and his wife, Carrie, attended a party that was organised by Martin Reynolds, his principle private secretary on May 20, 2020.
Reynolds had sent around 100 prime ministerial staff an email invite to the BYO booze party in the Prime Minister’s garden, saying it was an opportunity to make the most of the rare warm weather.
At the time, the rules forbade all social gatherings and only allowed two people to meet outdoors socially distanced.
Johnson told Prime Ministers Questions that he attended the gathering for 25 minutes to thank staff, but thought it was a “work event.”
“I want to apologise,” he said. “I have learned enough to know that there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility,” he said, adding that he did not want to pre-empt the outcome of an internal inquiry into revelations of Downing Streets parties held during lockdowns.
“Number 10 is a big department with the garden as an extension of the office, which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus.
“And when I went into that garden just after six [o’clock] on the 20th of May, 2020 to thank groups of staff before going into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, l believed implicitly that this was a work event.
“With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside … and I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions of people who would simply not see it that way.”
Opposition Leader Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister’s excuse was “so ridiculous” that it was “actually offensive” and called Johnson a man “with no shame.”
“Well that apology was pretty worthless, wasn’t it?” Starmer said. “Can’t the Prime Minister see that the British public thinks he’s lying through his teeth?
“The party’s over, Prime Minister; the only question is will the British public kick him out, will his party kick him out or will he do the decent thing and resign?”
It is the first time Starmer has called on the Prime Minister to resign and Johnson did not rule out the prospect.
The Prime Minister said the Opposition would have the opportunity to question him again after the internal inquiry, headed by civil servant Sue Gray, was complete “very soon.”
He said he would “respond as appropriate” to that inquiry, prompting some MPs to privately speculate that Johnson could quit if the report found he was at fault.
A series of leaks about Downing Street parties held during lockdown has put Johnson under the greatest pressure of his premiership just two years after his landslide election victory on the back of his pledge to “Get Brexit done”.
Nursing an 80-seat majority, Conservative MPs have always believed that Johnson would take them to the next election, but the lockdown revelations have prompted internal speculation about a leadership change.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak did not attend Prime Minister’s Questions, nor did any government ministers appear for morning media rounds as is custom.
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