The 67 words Boris Johnson used to brush off the Partygate scandal

·Political Correspondent, Yahoo News UK
·4 min read
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson reacts during his meeting with Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani (unseen) inside 10 Downing Street in London, Britain April 19, 2022. Daniel Leal/Pool via REUTERS
Boris Johnson told MPs in parliament on Tuesday he did not realise he broke lockdown laws. (Reuters)

Boris Johnson has attempted to draw a line under the Partygate scandal, offering a “wholehearted apology” for breaking COVID laws.

Facing MPs in parliament for the first time since the Metropolitan Police issued him with a fine for attending a surprise birthday gathering in a cabinet room, the PM insisted he did not realise he was breaking his own rules.

Johnson now faces claims of lying to parliament and breaching the ministerial code, following his numerous denials that rules were broken in No 10.

He offered a 67-word explanation to try and brush off the scandal, saying:

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

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 19, 2022: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson steps out from 10 Downing Street to welcome Prime Minister of Kurdistan Region, Masrour Barzani (not pictured) ahead of their bilateral meeting on April 19, 2022 in London, England. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Sir Keir Starmer accused the prime minister of being dishonest in parliament. (Getty Images)

On Thursday, MPs will get the chance to vote on whether Johnson misled Parliament over his assurances COVID rules were followed in Downing Street.

The fine handed to Johnson makes him the first prime minister in history to have been found to have broken the law while in office.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and the prime minister's wife, Carrie Johnson, also received fines for the same gathering on 14 April, 2020.

Read more: Partygate backlash after minister compares Boris Johnson fine to parking ticket

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised Johnson's apology, describing him as dishonest.

“What a joke," Starmer said.

"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."

Johnson also faced some anger on his own benches with former Tory chief whip Mark Harper telling him he no longer had faith in his leadership.

A police officer stands outside Number 10 Downing Street in London, Britain, April 12, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
There are growing reports that the prime minister may have been the ringleader of a potentially law-breaking event in Number 10. (Reuters)

Read more: Boris Johnson's actions 'stupid and indefensible’ but PM shouldn't quit, says Tory minister

Harper said: "I regret to say that we have a prime minister who broke the laws that he told the country they had to follow, hasn’t been straightforward about it and is now going to ask the decent men and women on these benches to defend what I think is indefensible.

"I'm very sorry to have to say this, but I no longer think he is worthy of the great office that he holds."

Harper subsequently announced he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister.

What’s the latest with Partygate?

Fresh reports of wrongdoing on the part of the prime minister have continued to emerge.

At the weekend, The Telegraph reported the PM not only attended a leaving party for his former director of communications, but instigated the event.

Johnson is accused of attending multiple events in addition to the one he has been fined for, meaning further fines could soon be forthcoming.

Since news of the fine emerged, most Conservatives have backed the PM.

Backbenchers and ministers have come out in support, arguing that other issues, such as the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine, should be the focus.

Read more: 'There weren't any pole dancers': Tory MP defends Johnson after Partygate fine

Justice secretary and deputy PM Dominic Raab tweeted last week: "The PM has accepted the Met’s decision & apologised.

"I fully support the PM and chancellor as they focus on maintaining the UK's international leadership against Russian brutality in Ukraine, and delivering our recovery from the pandemic for the British people at home."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak react at a statement on the economic update session, at the House of Commons in London, Britain March 23, 2022. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. IMAGE MUST NOT BE ALTERED.
Senior Tory and former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper announced he no longer had faith in the prime minister in parliament. (Reuters)

What happens next?

The Metropolitan's investigation into law-breaking parties on Downing Street continues, with more fines possibly on the horizon.

The full report by Sue Gray, the senior civil servant tasked with investigating Downing Street parties, is also yet to be published.

Read more: Partygate: Boris Johnson must resign over latest fines, say COVID victims' families

Johnson did not say whether he would authorise Gray to publish her final report in full when asked by one of his own MPs on Tuesday in parliament.

On Tuesday, the speaker of the House of Commons announced he would allow MPs to vote on referring Boris Johnson to a parliamentary committee on Thursday to investigate whether he intentionally misled parliament.

Watch: MPs to vote on whether Boris Johnson misled Parliament over Partygate

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