Boris Johnson has issued a grovelling apology over a leaked video showing his staff laughing about a Christmas party at Downing Street last year, held allegedly in breach of Covid lockdown rules.
The prime minister tried to head off a furious backlash in Westminster by announcing a government probe into the celebration he earlier denied happened.
Mr Johnson also appeared to turn focus on his own staff by telling MPs he is “furious” at footage of key aides appearing to joke about it four days later.
Within moments, the Tory leader faced yet more allegations – this time from his former adviser Dominic Cummings.
The ex aide claimed on social media a further party was held in the prime minister’s flat.
Asked by an MP whether a party had taken place there on November 13, Mr Johnson offered a bizarre response, stating: “No but I’m sure whatever happened the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times”.
‘I understand the anger’
He told MPs: “I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing No 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures, and 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.
“I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country and I apologise for the impression that it gives.
“But I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken, and that is what I have been repeatedly assured.”
The Conservative leader said he has asked the cabinet secretary to “establish all the facts and report back as soon as possible”.
He added that it “goes without saying that if those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.”
Aides laughed over ‘cheese and wine’
The video, which was leaked to ITV, shows the prime minister’s then press secretary Allegra Stratton and adviser Ed Oldfield, along with other aides, joking about a Downing Street Christmas party during a mock press conference.
It features senior aides laughing about a “cheese and wine” evening, including reports it included alcohol and a Secret Santa present-giving.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson’s apology “raises more questions than answers”.
“The prime minister, the Government, spent the week telling the British public there was no party – all guidance was followed completely,” he said.
“Millions of people now think the prime minister was taking them for fools, that they were lied to. They are right aren’t they?”
Boris Johnson replied: “I think he missed what I said.
“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.”
Calls for a resignation
Mr Johnson looked down and shook his head as Sir Keir questioned whether he has the “moral authority” to ask people to abide by any further coronavirus restrictions.
In one pointed intervention, the Labour leader described how the Queen “sat alone when she marked the passing of the man she’d been married to for 73 years”.
“Leadership, sacrifice – that’s what gives leaders the moral authority to lead,” he said.
Meanwhile, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford repeated his call for the prime minister to resign.
He said if Mr Johnson does not resign, “he must be removed”.
“Trust and leadership is a matter of life and death,” Mr Blackford said.
“Downing Street wilfully broke the rules and mocked the sacrifices we have all made, shattering the public trust.
“The prime minister is responsible for losing the trust of the people. He can no longer lead on the most pressing issue facing these islands.”
The prime minister replied: “The party opposite and indeed the other party opposite are going to continue to play politics. I am going to get on with the job.”