Boris Johnson ‘bitterly regrets’ the boozing that happened under his nose during lockdown – but insists the party only really got started once he had left for the night.
The prime minister has continued to defend himself during a press conference after the culture of partying in Downing Street during lockdown was laid bare by the long-awaited Sue Gray investigation.
A poll has showed a majority of voters think he should quit but the prime minister is continuing to fight for his political life.
The report confirms that excessive drinking was a regular occurrence in Number 10 when the rest of the country was under strict rules, including one event resulted in a staff member being sick and two more getting into a fight.
Sur Gray’s investigation also uncovered a message from a senior official warning staff against ‘walking around waving bottles of wine’ near cameras attending the nearby Covid-19 conference.
The findings conclude that ‘senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture’.
A large part of Mr Johnson’s defence today has hinged on his argument that events he attended only breached the law after he had left or others that took place when he was not in the building.
He told the conference ‘if you read her report and you look at the the detail in which she describes my own participation in the events, what I did, how long I was there, and I think you get a pretty fair picture of what took place’
Mr Johnson continued: ‘That does not mean that I don’t accept responsibility for the totality of what happened. And, yes, I bitterly regret it.’
The PM has pointed to the fact he was only fined for breaching the law on one occasion, despite the fact dozens more were issued to his colleagues, including for events he was present at.
He has also continued to insist that attending leaving drinks briefly is a legitimate work duty, telling the press conference: ‘I believe that they were work events and were part of my job.’
The PM added: ‘I think it was right, when people are working hard and very long hours and giving up a huge amount to serve their country, when they are moving on to another part of government…I think it is right to thank them.’
He said he had introduced reforms to ‘make sure everybody understands the difference between being engaged in work and socialising’.
The report also found there were ‘multiple examples’ of disrespectful behaviour towards cleaning and security staff.
The PM says he personally apologised to workers in Downing Street this afternoon.
Mr Johnson has choreographed a day of appearances designed to limit the damage in the eyes of two groups: the voting public and his backbenchers.
The reports includes pictures of the prime minister raising a toast in a room full of alcohol on November 13, 2020 (Picture: Reuters)
He will address Conservative members of parliament in a private meeting of the 1922 Committee this evening and will hope to do enough to prevent the threshold of MPs calling for a leadership election to be breached.
He faces even more of an uphill battle with the electorate: a snap poll conducted by YouGov this afternoon found 59% of voters think the PM should resign, with just 30% believing he should remain in post.
Nearly three quarters of all voters think Mr Johnson ‘knowingly lied about whether he broke lockdown rules’, including 51% of Tories.
The press conference follows another bruising appearance in the House of Commons for the PM, in which he apologised for failings and partially corrected the record over his previous claim that the rules were followed.
The PM remains under investigation for potentially misleading parliament, an offence traditionally seen as a resigning matter for ministers.
Mr Johnson said he ‘believed’ he was telling the truth when he told MPs guidance hadn’t been broken in Number 10, but added: ‘…clearly this was not the case for some of those gatherings after I had left, and at other gatherings when I was not even in the building’.
The PM is still facing a probe over whether he lied to parliament and his own backbenchers could yet move against him (Picture: AP)
Mr Johnson continued: ‘So I would like to correct the record, to take this opportunity, not in any sense to absolve myself of responsibility – which I take and have always taken – but simply to explain why I spoke as I did in this house.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer responded to the findings in the Commons, saying: ‘Number 10 symbolises the principles of public life in this country. Selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, leadership.
‘But who could read this report and honestly believe the prime minister has upheld those standards?’
Chris Bryant, the head of parliament’s standards watchdog, accused the PM of turning Downing Street into a ‘cesspit, full of arrogant, entitled narcissists’.
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