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Boris Johnson says sorry – and that he didn’t realise Downing Street party was a party

He apologised and said the Downing Street garden is an ‘extension of the office’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he didn’t realise a “bring your own booze” party he attended in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 was, in fact, a party, in a statement before a long-awaited session of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).

In answer to the latest accusations of boozy lockdown rule-breaking at Number 10 throughout the pandemic, Johnson admitted he should have sent staff back inside, but said he would wait for the conclusion of an official inquiry to discover the “full facts”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, visibly angry, called for the prime minister to resign.

Starmer said: “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?”

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Beginning PMQs with a statement, Johnson addressed the party – thought to have been attended by more than 40 people at a time when meetings of that size were illegal — saying he regretted not sending people back inside.

“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 how they want, to do the things they love,” Johnson said.

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

“Number 10 is a big department with the garden 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 on the 20th of May 2022 groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later, to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event. Mr Speaker, with hindsight, 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 simply would not see it that way.

“People who suffered terribly, people who are forbidden from meeting loved ones at all, inside or outside, and to them and to this House I offer my heartfelt apologies.

“And all I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others so that the full facts can be established.”

While the opposition demanded answers after a leaked email revealed over 100 people were invited to a party in Downing Street on May 20 2020 – with suggestions the Prime Minister attended – Conservative MPs began to turn on Johnson in the run-up to PMQs.

Nigel Mills, Conservative MP for Amber Valley, said the revelations were unacceptable and indefensible.

“I think if he knowingly attended what he knew to be a party, then he can’t survive that,” Mills told the BBC.

“Anybody that organised that or who willingly attended it knowing it was a party, clearly can’t be in charge of Covid policy.”

Caroline Nokes, the Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, apologised profusely to constituents over email, and made her anger clear.

“I have no words that can adequately express how angry I am at the ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’ attitude that appears to have prevailed in Downing Street,” Nokes wrote.

Christian Wakeford, the Conservative MP for Bury South, said the Prime Minister’s silence was damaging for politics.

“How do you defend the indefensible? You can’t! It’s embarrassing and what’s worse is it further erodes trust in politics when it’s already low,” he wrote on Twitter.

Johnson has so far avoided answering questions about his attendance at the party.

In a press interview on Tuesday, he said he could not comment while an investigation into Partygate by civil servant Sue Gray was ongoing, and sent a junior minister to Parliament to answer an urgent question from Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner.

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Rayner, writing in the Times this morning, said this spoke volumes, and said Johnson must come clean at noon.

“If Johnson has even a scrap of respect for the people who elected him, he must tell the truth,” she wrote.

It can be hard to keep on top of all of the revelations, what with there being so many, so here’s a list of them – or the ones we know about anyway.

You can watch PMQs on BBC iPlayeror on BBCParliament.

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