Boris Johnson Partygate: Another apology but no explanation as Boris Johnson faces vote on misleading Parliament
On the day when MPs were promised an explanation from Boris Johnson over his breaking of Covid regulations in Downing Street, they instead got another apology – and the scene now set for a daunting vote for the Prime Minister later this week.
A packed Commons heard a five-page statement from Mr Johnson yesterday in response to becoming the first sitting Prime Minister to be found to have broken the law. Four of those pages boasted of his Government’s record. It was a performance, said the opposition, which showed more self-congratulation than contrition. .
On the quieter Tory benches, the apology appeared to have been received better. “Moving on seems to be working….for now,” said one backbencher.
To escalating cries of “resign” from opposition MPs, Mr Johnson promised he was speaking in “all humility” by acknowledging the fine police issued over the gathering in No 10 for his birthday in June 2020.
He said: “I paid the fine immediately and I offered the British people a full apology, and I take this opportunity on the first available sitting day to repeat my wholehearted apology to the House.
“Let me also say, not by way of mitigation or excuse, but purely because it explains my previous words in this House, that it did not occur to me then or subsequently, that a gathering in the Cabinet Room just before a vital meeting on Covid strategy could amount to a breach of the rules.
“I repeat that was my mistake and I apologise for it unreservedly."
He insisted: “It is precisely because I know that so many people are angry and disappointed that I feel an even greater sense of obligation to deliver on the priorities of the British people.
“And to respond in the best traditions of our country, to Putin’s barbaric onslaught against Ukraine.”
The statement sparked a furious response from Sir Keir Starmer, so often accused of lacking passion, but who responded so angrily he was reprimanded by the Speaker for calling Mr Johnson “dishonest”.
He said: “What a joke. Even now, as the latest mealy-mouthed apology stumbles out of one side of his mouth, a new set of deflections and distortions pour from the other.
“But the damage is already done. The public have made up their mind. They don’t believe a word the Prime Minister says. They know what he is. As ever with this Prime Minister, those close to him find themselves ruined and the institutions he vows to protect damaged.
"Good ministers forced to walk away from public service, the Chancellor’s career up in flames. And the leader of the Scottish Conservatives rendered pathetic.
"For all those unfamiliar with this Prime Minister’s career, this isn’t some fixable glitch in the system. It’s the whole point. It’s what he does. It’s who he is.
"He knows he’s dishonest and incapable of changing. So, he drags everybody else down with him.”
In a more muted fashion, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the Prime Minister only apologised because he was caught, describing him as a “serial offender” and again calling for him to resign.
Speaking to Tory MPs after, most praised the Prime Minister’s tone with one even praising his “humility”.
One said: “It was pretty bullish, but then it changed. He was much more sombre and reflective".
Another added: “Moving on seems to be working….for now”.
However, it was not enough for others, with the former chief whip Mark Harper announcing he had written to the chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady calling for a vote of no confidence.
Speaking to loud Labour cheers, he said: “I regret to say that we have a Prime Minister who broke the laws that he told the country they had to follow, hasn’t been straightforward about it and is now going to ask the decent men and women on these (Conservative) benches to defend what I think is indefensible.
“I am very sorry to have to say this but I no longer think that he is worthy of the great office that he holds.”
Now all eyes will turn to Thursday, with Labour forcing a vote on whether to refer Mr Johnson to the Committee of Privileges, which examines issues relating to contempt of Parliament.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he had approved an application from Sir Keir and other opposition MPs allowing them to table a motion for debate.
Sir Lindsay told MPs he had “no jurisdiction over the ministerial code” and whether it had been breached, but instead could “decide whether there is an arguable case to be examined”.
Having taken advice from clerks on the matter, the Speaker said he had decided to allow Sir Keir to table his motion.
Labour is understood to be wording the motion to make Thursday’s vote about whether to refer Mr Johnson to the Committee of Privileges, which examines issues relating to contempt of Parliament.
The committee has the power to summon reports and documents.
It means that MPs could request to see the full version of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s inquiry into the Downing Street lockdown gatherings and any potential photographic evidence that exists.
The Prime Minister is scheduled to be on a Government trip to India later this week, meaning he will not be in Westminster for the vote.
Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael said it was obvious Tory MPs were not buying the excuses.
He said: “It is frankly embarrassing that the Prime Minister thought he had the right to use Ukraine’s valiant struggle to try to shield himself from his own lawbreaking ways.
"No one in the House – Conservative MPs included – really believed Boris Johnson’s apology or his excuses for repeatedly breaking lockdown rules.
“What is essential now is that the government allows a free vote this Thursday on an investigation into Boris Johnson’s lawbreaking.”
Labour’s shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray claimed Tory MPs looked visibly ashamed.
He said: “The mood of the house is one that knows the PM is flailing around looking for an excuse.
"Keir Starmer brought compete silence to the house as he completely destroyed the PMs pathetic apology and excuses.
"The Tory backbenchers were embarrassed to even look up.”
Mr Johnson pointedly refused to confirm he would give MPs a free vote on the issue, meaning they could be ordered to support him by the whips.
A Labour source: “Any Conservative MP considering voting to block this investigation would be voting for a cover-up.
“They should reflect on the mess they got themselves into over Owen Paterson before falling into line.”
Government sources, meanwhile, insisted Mr Johnson’s trip to India is “definitely happening” despite it clashing with the vote, with one arguing it is “critical for jobs, trade, investment and diplomacy”.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.