THE Commons erupted in anger today as Boris Johnson attempted to duck responsibility for a lockdown Christmas party.

Johnson is facing calls to resign and "come clean" about the event at No 10 during lockdown restrictions last year as the Government refused to send a minister to defend its position on television.

Leaked footage from No 10's £2.6 million press briefing room emerged on Monday night which showed former press secretary Allegra Stratton laughing as she appeared to rehearse answers to questions over a lockdown-busting Christmas party.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson 'to bring in new Covid rules to bury Christmas party scandal'

This afternoon at the start of Prime Minister's Questions, Johnson read out a short statement and announced that his top civil servant would hold an inquiry into the party. He apologised "for offence caused" in the leaked video clip and insisted he had been asssured there was "no party" and no Covid rules were broken.

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.”

READ MORE: Downing Street Christmas party: Scottish Conservative MPs silent on scandal

Johnson added to MPs: “I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible – and it goes without saying that if those rules were broken then there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.”

Labour Leader Keir Starmer said: “An internal investigation into what happened – the situation is as clear as day. I thought last week was bad enough.

“Surely the Prime Minister hasn’t now going to start pretending that the first he knew about this was last night? Surely we have all watched the video of the Prime Minister’s staff including his personal spokesperson.

“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 was happened. Ant and Dec are ahead of the Prime Minister on this. The Prime Minister has been caught red-handed. Why doesn’t he end the investigation right now by just admitting it?”

READ MORE: Boris Johnson Christmas party: 'Disaster' for PM as scandal intensifies

Boris Johnson said: “Because I have been repeatedly assured that no rules were broken. I understand public anxiety about this… but there is a risk of doing a grave injustice to people who have frankly obeyed the rules.

“That is why the Cabinet Secretary will be conducting an investigation, and that is why there will be requisite disciplinary action if necessary.”

Keir Starmer said the Prime Minister’s apology “raises more questions than answers”

The Labour leader said: “The Prime Minister, the Government, spent the week telling the British public there was no party. All guidance was followed completely.

“Millions of people now think the Prime Minister was taking them for fools, that they were lied to. They are right aren’t they?”

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.”

Starmer went onto highlight the leadership of the Queen during the pandemic as he questioned if Johnson has the “moral authority” to lead and ask people to abide by any further restrictions.

The Labour leader told the Commons: “Her Majesty 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.

“Does the Prime Minister think he has the moral authority to lead and to ask the British people to stick to the rules?”

Johnson replied: “Not only that but the Labour Party, and the Labour leader in particular, have played politics throughout this pandemic.”

He accused Sir Keir of trying to “muddy the waters, to confuse the public and to cause needless confusion about the guidance” during the pandemic.

Sir Keir replied: “That’s so desperate and even his own side can see it.”

More pressure was heaped on Johnson after SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford told the Commons that if the Prime Minister does not resign, “he must be removed”.

He said: “People across these islands have followed the rules even when it meant missing friends and family, missing births, missing funerals, missing the chance to be beside a loved one in their dying moments.

“People have sacrificed at times to the point of breaking, while the UK Government has laughed in their faces. It is clear that this Prime Minister has lost the support of the public and now even of his own benches.”

Blackford noted this is a “moment of moral reckoning”, adding: “Every member of the Conservative benches must now decide: Is this the man to lead these islands when lives are at stake?”

He went on: “It is time for members in this House to act, if he doesn’t resign, then he must be removed.”

Johnson replied: “I thank the right honourable gentleman for his support and vote of confidence but I can tell him I am going to get on with the job.

“I believe that is what is the right thing to do and I think it is very, very sad that when the public needs to hear clarity from their officials and politicians the parties opposite are trying to muddy the waters about events or non-events of a year ago.”

The video, leaked to ITV News, which is reported to be from December 22 last year, refers to a party on "Friday" - which would have been December 18, the same day The Daily Mirror reported there was a staff party where games were played, food and drinks were served, and revelries went on past midnight.

No 10 initially did not say the reports were inaccurate but said all rules had been followed, before later denying any party had taken place.

Amid reports that the PM is to announce new restrictions for England under his Covid Plan B Tory MP William Wragg described such a move as a "diversionary tactic".

Wragg told the Commons: "There are media reports of a Cabinet meeting and press conference this afternoon to initiate Covid winter plan B without reference to this House."

Wragg went out to criticise the possible introduction of vaccine passports under the plan, before adding: "Is my Right Honorable friend the Prime Minister aware that very few will be convinced by this diversionary tactic?"

The PM said no decisions would be taken without consulting the Cabinet.

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, later made a point of order on plan B, asking if the government will announce it at a press conference this afternoon. He said MPs should be told first.

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said the government has not said it wants to make a Commons statement.

But he added that statements should be made in this chamber first. He said he finds it “very, very offensive” when the government makes announcements outside the chamber first.

The challenge for Downing Street was laid bare by no Cabinet minister being offered to represent the Government in morning broadcast interviews, and there were questions over whether a suggested press conference to mark one year since the first coronavirus vaccine was delivered would go ahead.

As well as Health Secretary Sajid Javid pulling out of national interviews, vaccines minister Maggie Throup is understood to have pulled out of a planned round of regional television interviews.

 

Labour's shadow foreign secretary David Lammy called on the Prime Minister to "come clean" with the British public.

Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions. File pic.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It really is quite unacceptable that this is seen as something that is sort of humorous, or something that isn't serious, or something that suggests that there can be one rule for a Prime Minister and those in No 10 and another rule for the British public."

Former Tory minister Tracey Crouch, MP for Chatham and Aylesford, demanded an apology, Kent Online reported.

"I am fuming! My constituents have every right to be angry," she said.

"Their memories of lost loved ones are traumatised knowing that they died alone, first and last Christmases passed by, and many spent what is usually a special day by themselves.

"I am not even going to begin to justify or defend a party in Downing Street. We all deserve a fulsome explanation and apology and swiftly".

Tory peer and former Conservative Party chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi said all those present at any party should resign.

She tweeted: "Every minister, parliamentarian & staffer at the #downingstreetparty must resign NOW.
"No ifs no buts. The rule of law is a fundamental value, the glue that hold us together as a nation.
"Once that is trashed by those in power the very essence of our democracy is at stake."

In the footage obtained by ITV News, Stratton and adviser Ed Oldfield, along with other aides, were filmed joking about a "fictional" Downing Street party.
Oldfield can be heard asking Ms Stratton: "I've just seen reports on Twitter that there was a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night, do you recognise those reports?"

Stratton replied "I went home" before appearing to consider what the correct answer should be.

During the rehearsal, filmed as part of a subsequently-abandoned plan for Ms Stratton to lead televised press briefings, one aide is heard saying: "It wasn't a party, it was cheese and wine."

"Is cheese and wine all right? It was a business meeting," Stratton replied, to laughter in the room.

Stratton then noted "this is recorded", adding: "This fictional party was a business meeting ... and it was not socially distanced."

The Metropolitan Police confirmed officers are reviewing the leaked video in relation to "alleged breaches" of coronavirus regulations.

READ MORE: Downing Street Christmas party: UK newspapers react to the story

In response to ITV's report, a Downing Street spokesman said: "There was no Christmas party. Covid rules have been followed at all times."

Ministers are yet to explain how the alleged bash complied with the rules in place at the time, despite coming under pressure since an initial report in the Daily Mirror.

The newspaper said two events took place in No 10 in the run-up to the festive season last year, including Mr Johnson giving a speech at a leaving do during November's lockdown.

The other was said to be the staff party in December.

At the time, the Tier 3 rules explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it is "a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted".