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Boris Johnson Tells MPs People Have "A Right To Expect Better" After Partygate Fine

(Alamy)

4 min read

Boris Johnson has told MPs that he wanted to repeat a "wholehearted apology" he made to the public last week after he was fined over a lockdown-breaching gathering in Downing Street.

Johnson, his wife Carrie Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were all issued with Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) last week after the Met Police determined they had breached Covid-19 rules.

“I acknowledged the hurt and the anger, and I said that people had a right to expect better of their Prime Minister," he said.

"Let me also say — not by way of mitigation, or excuse, but purely purely because it explains my previous word 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."

But Labour leader Keir Starmer dismissed last week's recycled apology as "a joke", and called Johnson "dishonest and incapable of changing".

“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.

He continued: "The damage is already done. The public has made up their mind. They don't believe a word the PM says."

The Prime Minister tried to turn attention to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, telling MPs that the UK had been "leading the world in standing up to Putin". 

"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," he said. 

He said the UK's "long term goal must be to strengthen and fortify Ukraine to the point where Russia will never dare to invade again". 

Johnson's statement came shortly after Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle announced he was allowing MPs to vote on whether to launch an internal investigation into Johnson’s previous ‘partygate’ comments.

Labour leader Keir Starmer is set to table a motion for debate on Thursday afternoon, which Hoyle said would give MPs “an opportunity to consider the motion and their response to it”. 

If voted through by MPs, the Prime Minister will then be referred to the Common’s privileges committee, led by Labour MP Chris Bryant, which will look at whether he deliberately misled Parliament by claiming that no rules were broken during events held at Downing Street and Whitehall during lockdown.

The vote, however, is very unlikely to pass as Johnson’s party holds a significant majority in the Commons. 

Hoyle told MPs that it was not his role to decide whether the Prime Minister had breached the ministerial code, but that he could “decide whether there is an arguable case to be examined”.

“Having considered the issue, having taken advice from the clerks of the House, I’ve decided that this is a matter that I should allow the precedence accorded to the issue of privilege.

“Therefore, [Keir Starmer] may table a motion for debate on Thursday.”

According to the ministerial code, which guides the conduct of senior members of government, states that any minister who “knowingly” misleads Parliament is “expected to offer their resignation”.

Johnson denied last week that he had misled Parliament, claiming that it “did not occur” to him that attending a gathering in Downing Street in June 2020 “might have been a breach of the rules”. 

He had previously claimed on several occasions that restrictions had not been breached, telling the Commons on 8 December 2020 that he had been “repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken”. 

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