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.
Facing MPs for the first time since the video emerged, the prime minister said he was “furious” and had asked the Cabinet Secretary to investigate.
Live updates from as fallout continues over ‘party’ video
“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 up and down the country and I apologise 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 “it goes without saying that if those rules were broken 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.
‘Christmas parties’, denials and COVID rules timeline: What happened in Downing Street last year?
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”.
Mr Johnson replied: “I apologise for the impression that has been given that staff in Downing Street take this less than seriously. I am sickened myself and furious.”
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”.
He said the public would not want to see confidence in COVID measures “undermined” and claimed ministers were “taking the steps necessary to protect the public” rather than “focusing on the events of a year ago”.
Matt Fowler, co-founder of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, accused the PM of trying to “gaslight” bereaved families with his comments.
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, told MPs during the session that Mr Johnson should quit as he “can no longer lead on the most pressing issue facing these islands”.
The saga comes as the PM considers the imposition of fresh COVID restrictions in England and a move to Plan B of the government’s strategy for dealing with the virus this winter.
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.
Senior Number 10 aides are heard jokingly referring to a “business meeting” and a “cheese and wine” event.
The footage is said to be from 22 December last year – four days after an alleged Christmas party took place in Number 10.
It has sparked a fierce backlash against the PM, with opposition MPs calling for police to investigate and some saying Mr Johnson should consider his position.
Conservative MPs have also been voicing their frustration and anger.
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