Prime Minister Boris Johnson has admitted he attended a staff gathering in the Downing Street Garden, on May 20 last year.
Mr Johnson said he went into the garden just after 6pm to thank his staff for their hard work but went back inside 25 minutes later to continue working. He admitted he should have sent staff back inside at the time.
At Wednesday’s PMQ’s He told the house: “I know the rage they feel with me and the government I lead and that the rules are not being followed by the people who make the rules I’ve learned enough to know that there are things we simply did not get right. “I must take responsibility.”
He added: “I want to repeat that I thought it was a work event and I regret that we didn’t do things differently.”
He went on: “I know that people up and down the country made huge sacrifices during the pandemic and I understand the anger, the rage they feel at the thought people in Downing Street were not following the rules. I bitterly regret it and I wish we could do things differently.
“I have and can continue to apologise for what we did.”
Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “The prime ministers defence that he didn’t realise he was at a party, is so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public.”
Sir Keir made it clear the ex-Health Secretary Matt Hancock resigned when he broke the rules as did his former adviser Allegra Stratton when a video emerged of her joking about a party.
He added: “The prime minister is a “pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road.”
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, accused the prime minister of repeatedly breaking the rules as both the Alliance Party, Democratic Unionist Party and the Liberal Democrats also demanded Boris Johnson’s resignation.
The PM refused to resign saying it was not for him to pre-empt the results of Second Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office Sue Gray’s inquiry.
Sir Keir also said: “The party’s over, Prime Minister. “Will the public kick him out, will his party kick him out or will he resign?
“The public think he is “lying through his teeth” about the lockdown gathering.”
With the garden party in mind, In a leaked email the Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds said to more than 100 staff last May: “Hi all,
“After what has been an incredibly busy period, we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening.
“Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”
Asian Standard understands around 40 staff attended the gathering alongside the PM’s wife Carrie Johnson.
Pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson not just from his own party and across the Westminster bubble – but also from the public.
Here in the North-East South Shields entrepreneur Tony Singh told me: “It wouldn’t have been so bad if Boris Johnson had admitted things a lot earlier. My businesses were following the strict guidelines of the time and it seems it was one rule for them and another for Joe Public.
We couldn’t get to the temple, and I can tell you the community around me isn’t happy at all about what happened at Downing Street. If he admits to being at the May 20th gathering, he should resign.”
Meanwhile a spokesperson from an Indian food store in Sunderland says she doesn’t feel Boris Johnson should resign saying: “I actually don’t feel angry over what happened, just very sad for all those people who have lost loved ones.
“I think we should draw a line under this now as it won’t bring those people back and the prime minister has been under great pressure.
“He’s had to deal not just with Brexit but also a pandemic just after coming into office. I don’t think anyone could have done a better job in the circumstances. I think we should move on now.”
Mehran Malik student union representative and communications manager for the Pakistani Society at the university of Teesside told Asian Standard: “I attended a socially distanced family celebration event in Bradford last May as a guest within the rule of six.
“After a little while police officers came to the door asking to look around as they thought we’d breached the guidelines. There were only five people in the property including two young children who were traumatised by their appearance. The officers who didn’t have a warrant soon realised they’d been wrong.
“Naturally, we all felt very angry at the time, so to see the garden gathering controversy in the news brings it all back. But actually, I don’t think Boris Johnson is doing a good job generally anyway. So, for the good of him, us and the country he should stand down.”
Back in the commons the prime minister added: “I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there are millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who have suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all inside or outside, and to them and to this House I offer my heartfelt apologies.
“All I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others so that the full facts can be established.
“I will of course come back to this House and make a statement.”
It seems the prime minister has survived the controversy for now at least.