Sorry … now back to war: Boris offers apology with 'full humility'

Sorry… now back to the war: Boris offers apology with ‘full humility’ but STILL refuses to call Number 10 rule-breaking gathering a party, insists he didn’t lie to Parliament – and moves swiftly onto Ukraine in statement to Commons

  • The Prime Minister said sorry with ‘full humility’ over the £50 fixed-penalty notice he received last week
  •  But in the same breath he claimed ignorance of his own Covid rules over June 2020 event in No10
  • Told MPs ‘It did not occur to me then or subsequently that gathering … could amount to a breach of the rules’

Boris Johnson offered MPs a brief apology for his Partygate lawbreaking today – before attempting to drag attention back to the war in Ukraine.

The Prime Minister said sorry with ‘full humility’ over the £50 fixed-penalty notice he received from Scotland Yard last week, in his first Commons appearance since the Easter break.

But in the same breath he claimed ignorance of his own Covid rules, saying: ‘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.’

The PM was branded a ‘joke’ by Labour leader Keir Starmer after he made the short admission of guilt before giving a more lengthy address on events in Ukraine, to show his involvement in world events.   

He has used the war as a justification for not resigning after becoming the first serving prime minister to break the law while in office. 

Before arriving in Parliament this afternoon he spoke to US president Joe Biden, and French and German counterpart Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz about the Russian invasion. 

Mr Johnson’s hopes of dealing swiftly with the political fallout from Partygate were dealt a blow today after the Speaker approved a vote on whether he should be investigated for misleading the Commons.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle approved a Labour plan for a debate and vote on Thursday over the PM’s claim from the despatch box last year that all lockdown rules were followed in Downing Street.

It comes in the wake of a swathe of dozens of £50 fines, including for the PM himself and for his wife Carrie, for breaking the Covid laws in 2020 and 2021.  

Other opposition MPs could be heard shouting ‘criminal’ as the PM made his statement. 

And it was not enough to prevent hostile Tories from demanding he quit. Mark Harper, a former chief whip told him to his face: ‘I strongly support the Government’s actions in standing up to Putin’s aggression and helping Ukraine defend itself and our values and it’s exactly at times like this that our country needs a Prime Minister who exemplifies those values.

‘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.’

He also confirmed he has submitted a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister. 

The Prime Minister said sorry with ‘full humility’ over the £50 fixed-penalty notice he received from Scotland Yard last week.

The PM was branded a ‘joke’ by Labour leader Keir Starmer after he made the short admission of guilt before giving a more lengthy address on events in Ukraine, to show his involvement in world events.

Mark Harper, a former chief whip told him to his face: ‘I no longer think he is worthy of the great office he holds.’

He also confirmed he has submitted a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

What is the vote about? 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and other senior MPs requested the Commons vote after the Prime Minister was fined for attending his own lockdown-busting birthday party in No 10 in June 2020.

They argue that Mr Johnson’s previous assertions that ‘the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times’ in Downing Street and that ‘no Covid rules were broken’ misled Parliament – although those remarks in the Commons were not specifically related to the birthday gathering. 

Ministers normally decide what is debated and when, but in this case Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle ruled that the issue should be given parliamentary time.

He said it was not up to him to decide whether there had been a contempt of Parliament, but ‘my role is to decide whether there is an arguable case to be examined’.

Sir Keir will table a motion for the debate and vote on Thursday. He is expected to call for the Prime Minister’s conduct to be examined by the Committee of Privileges, which considers issues relating to contempt of Parliament. Mr Johnson will miss the vote as he will be on a visit to India. 

The Prime Minister has a working majority of 75 and it would take a massive revolt of Tory MPs to agree to refer the matter to the committee. 

But by forcing Tory MPs to reject an investigation into whether the Prime Minister lied to Parliament the Opposition parties hope to gain a political weapon to use as voters head to the ballot boxes for local elections across the country in May. 

Mr Johnson told MPs: ‘As soon as I received the notice, I acknowledged the hurt and anger and I said that people had a right to expect better of their Prime Minister – and I repeat that, Mr Speaker, again in the House now.

‘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. I respect the outcome of the police investigation, which is still under way, and I can only say that I will respect their decision-making and always take the appropriate steps.’ 

Outlining actions taken over the Easter recess, he said on April 12 in a call to US President Joe Biden he ‘proposed that our long-term goal must be to strengthen and fortify Ukraine to the point where Russia will never dare to invade again’.

Mr Johnson said: ‘Just as our foreign policy must look to the long term, the same is true of this Government’s domestic priorities. And as we face the economic aftershocks of Covid and the consequences of Russian aggression, that is above all in tackling the impact on British energy prices and on consumers and on family bills.’

He described the £9 billion commitment to help people with their bills, and said ‘we’re helping families to insulate their homes and reduce costs, and to end our dependence on Putin’s oil and gas’.

Mr Johnson added: ‘We will massively expand offshore wind, and in the country that split the atom we will build a new reactor not every decade, but every year.

‘This Government is joining with our allies to face down Putin’s aggression abroad while addressing the toughest problems at home. Helping millions of families with the cost of living, making our streets safer and funding the NHS to clear the Covid backlog.

‘My job is to work every day to make the British people safer, more secure and more prosperous and that is what I will continue to do.’

Sir Keir demanded he resign following his ‘half-hearted’ apology. 

‘What a joke. 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 said.

 The Labour leader said he spoke to John Robinson, a constituent of Conservative Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant about how he and his family obeyed the rules and could not spend time with his wife before she died and had to limit numbers at the funeral.

Sir Keir said: ‘Doesn’t the Prime Minister realise that John would have given the world to hold his dying wife’s hand even if it was just for nine minutes, but he didn’t because he followed the Prime Minister’s rules, rules we now know the Prime Minister blithely, repeatedly and deliberately ignored.

‘After months of insulting excuses, today’s half-hearted apology will never be enough for John Robinson.

‘If the Prime Minister had any respect for John and the millions like him who sacrificed everything to follow the rules, he’d resign, but he won’t because he doesn’t respect John, he doesn’t respect the sacrifice of the British public, he’s a man without shame.’

MPs will get to vote on a motion to be tabled by Keir Starmer referring him to the Commons Privilege’s Committee over whether he deliberately mislead MPs. 

The committee has the power to summon reports and documents. It means that MPs could request to see the full version of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s inquiry into the Downing Street lockdown gatherings and any potential photographic evidence that exists.

While the Conservatives’ 80-strong majority means that the Government will almost certainly win the vote and block the investigation, it keeps the row in the headlines at a time when the PM wants it buried by other issues.

Labour will also hope it pushes reluctant Tories furious at the lawbreaking into the open by making them abstain. 

A party source said: ‘Any Conservative MP considering voting to block this investigation would be voting for a cover up. They should reflect on the mess they got themselves into over Owen Paterson before falling into line.’  

Mr Johnson will make a statement to MPs this afternoon, with expectations of a ‘full-throated apology’ for the fixed-penalty notice he received for breaking the lockdown laws. 

Sir Lindsay said he had received letters from a number of MPs on the issue. He said the procedure is set out in parliament’s Erskine May procedural rule book, noting: ‘It is not for me to police the ministerial code, I have no jurisdiction over the ministerial code even though a lot of people seem to think I have. It is not the case.

‘Secondly, it is not for me to determine whether or not the Prime Minister has committed a contempt. My role is to 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, (Sir Keir Starmer) may table a motion for debate on Thursday.’

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey urged Tory MPs to ‘do their patriotic duty’ in Thursday’s vote on the Prime Minister’s conduct.

He said: ‘The British public have declared Boris Johnson a liar. Now it’s time for Parliament to do the same.

He gathered his ministers this morning for a Cabinet meeting dominated by Ukraine – a meeting that took place in the same room as the June 2020 party that led to his £50 police fine.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that he told the meeting that Ukraine’s position remained ‘perilous’, with Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘angered by defeats but determined to claim some sort of victory regardless of the human cost’.


Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis (left) this morning suggested the fine was akin to ministers have previously received parking tickets

‘The country cannot afford a Prime Minister who breaks the law and lies about it, especially when families are facing a cost-of-living crisis.

‘Johnson has taken the British people for fools for far too long, and it’s time for Conservative MPs to show where they stand. They must do their patriotic duty and kick Boris Johnson out of Downing Street once and for all.’

Mr Johnson will speak with Joe Biden and other worlds leaders about the continuing war in Ukraine before addressing MPs over Partygate later as he seeks to use the conflict as leverage.

He will take part in a virtual meeting with leaders of G7 and other nations from Downing Street before heading to the Commons to face apoplectic opposition MPs and his own long-suffering backbenchers. 

It is reported he will attempt to convince politicians – and the wider public – there are bigger issues to focus on than the partygate saga.

It is thought he will zone in on the crisis in Ukraine, along with the Government’s controversial new policy on sending ‘illegal’ migrants to Rwanda. 

He gathered his ministers this morning for a Cabinet meeting dominated by Ukraine – a meeting that took place in the same room as the June 2020 party that led to his £50 police fine. 

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that he told the meeting that Ukraine’s position remained ‘perilous’, with Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘angered by defeats but determined to claim some sort of victory regardless of the human cost’. 

But comments by his supporters playing down the importance of him being the first lawbreaking PM ever raise questions over how much he is planning to apologise for in the Commons.

One source told the Financial Times that ‘It’s not as if he walked into a rave in Ibiza’, a reference to what No10 says is his brief appearance at his birthday party in June 2020 that resulted in the fine.

And Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis this morning suggested the fine was akin to ministers have previously received parking tickets.

He told Sky News: ‘You’ve asked me, can someone who sets the laws and the rules, can they also be someone who breaks the rules.

‘That clearly has happened with a number of ministers over the years.’    

One source told the Financial Times that ‘It’s not as if he walked into a rave in Ibiza’, a reference to what No10 says is his brief appearance at his birthday party in June 2020 that resulted in the fine. Pictured is the former Space nightclub.

He added: ‘I think we do see consistently, whether it is through parking fines or speeding fines, ministers of both parties over the years have been in that position.

‘We’ve had prime ministers in the past who have received penalty notices, from what I can see, and also frontbench ministers.

‘I saw there was a parking notice that Tony Blair had once. We’ve seen front bench Labour ministers and, let’s be frank, government ministers as well.’ 

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer slammed the idea, which followed claims at the weekend that the fine was like a speeding ticket.

Sir Keir told ITV’s Lorraine’: ‘I don’t think you can say to people ”oh just move on”, I also don’t accept this argument … that it is a bit like a speeding fine. It isn’t like a speeding fine at all.

‘In all of my days I have never had anybody break down in front of me because they couldn’t drive at 35mph in a 30mph zone. I had no end of people in tears, in real bits, about complying with rules that really really hurt them.

‘I don’t think the public are going to accept this. I also think the pathetic displays of Tory MPs going out to defend the indefensible is something they should all be ashamed of.’

Asked if the PM agreed with Mr Lewis’s analysis, his spokesman told reporters: ‘On this issue the Prime Minister will be making a statement to the house and I think, as much as possible, it’s right that Parliament hear from him first rather than from me.

‘He’s talked about understanding the strength of feeling about this issue, which is why he has apologised, and fully respects the outcome of the police investigation.’

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told ITV’s Lorraine’: ‘I don’t think you can say to people ”oh just move on”, I also don’t accept this argument … that it is a bit like a speeding fine. It isn’t like a speeding fine at all’

It comes as he faces a potential investigation into whether he misled Parliament when making earlier statements about parties in Downing Street and his involvement in them. 

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, is expected to announce today he will allow MPs to vote on whether to investigate if the Prime Minister misled Parliament when saying ‘all guidance was followed completely’ in Downing Street in December. 

Under the ministerial code, knowingly misleading parliament is an offence that should result in resignation. 

Former minister and current defence committee chairman Tobias Ellwood MP told BBC Breakfast that now was the time for a vote on Mr Johnson’s future as Prime Minister.

‘Unfortunately, many, many MPs continue to be very numbed by this, very, very concerned by where we’re going,’ he said.

‘We have to defend this at the next general election. We’ve got some more fixed penalty notices likely to come forward, Sue Gray’s report to conclude, and, of course, those important local elections on the fifth of May.

‘If I was the Prime Minister, I would show leadership here, recognise this requires crisis management as such, and say that ‘these are difficult times, I will give you the opportunity to support me through an actual vote of confidence’.’

He added that the vote could be held after the May local elections ‘if they go badly’.

‘Therefore, the party itself can recognise whether we all support the Prime Minister, or the Prime Minister has support and we march forward, or it is time for change,’ he said.

Last week the PM was fined by the Metropolitan Police for attending a birthday bash thrown in his honour in the Cabinet room in June 2020, while coronavirus restrictions were in place.

He was then accused over the weekend of not only attending a leaving party for his former communications chief Lee Cain on November 13, 2020, but instigating the do. Downing Street declined to comment on the claims.

Mr Johnson is widely expected to make a statement in the Commons today, as MPs return to Westminster following the Easter recess.

The Telegraph cited a Downing Street source as saying he will ‘offer a full-throated apology and recognise the strength of feeling’ among MPs on partygate, but is unlikely to go into too much detail on the matter.

The Prime Minister was fined £50 for attending a rule breaking birthday party in Downing Street in June 2020

‘He will obviously give an update on the fine because there is a clear need to do that, but it is difficult to pre-empt the findings of an ongoing police investigation publicly,’ the source reportedly said.

The newspaper said he will instead talk about Ukraine and the Rwanda deal, while The Times previously reported he will also touch on the cost-of-living crisis and a trip to India focusing on defence and trade.

As well as addressing MPs in the Chamber, Mr Johnson is expected to speak to a meeting of the entire Conservative parliamentary party on Tuesday evening.

According to The Telegraph, it is also thought Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, will announce today that he will allow a vote on an investigation into whether the PM misled Parliament with his partygate explanations.  

The Times reports that while any vote to censure the Prime Minister is unlikely to pass, Labour hopes to use it to put pressure on Conservative MPs who have not yet back Mr Johnson, while also using it as ammunition in future elections if Tory MPs back him.  

On Monday, a senior Tory suggested a ‘war cabinet’ could be established in place of a leadership contest to avoid detracting attention from the crisis in Ukraine if the PM steps down or is deposed.

Sir Roger Gale said the ‘interim administration’ could be led by the deputy prime minister, Dominic Raab, who briefly took the reins in 2020 when Mr Johnson was hospitalised with Covid-19.

The veteran Conservative MP previously submitted a letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister, which remains ‘on the table’, but has since said it is not the right time for a leadership election given the situation in Ukraine.

He told the PA news agency he was now keen to establish if it may be possible to put a contest on hold if Mr Johnson resigns or is forced out of his job.

Meanwhile, former archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said that without asking for repentance and forgiveness the Prime Minister’s position was not sustainable.

His comments follow a thinly-veiled reference to standards in politics by one of the Church of England’s most senior clergymen, the Archbishop of York.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, is expected to let MPs vote on whether to investigate Boris Johnson for potentially misleading Parliament

Using his Easter sermon on Sunday, Stephen Cottrell urged Britons to ask what sort of country they wanted to live in.

He said: ‘Do we want to be known for the robustness of our democracy, where those in public life live to the highest standards, and where we can trust those who lead us to behave with integrity and honour?’

Speaking to Times Radio about the partygate saga on Monday, Dr Williams said: ‘Because I don’t believe that we should rule out the possibility of, to put it in religious terms, repentance and forgiveness, then it’s perfectly possible for somebody to say, ‘Yes, I got that badly wrong. I accept the consequence. I accept that this has damaged trust. I’m asking for another chance.’

‘But otherwise, I don’t see it’s a sustainable position, myself.’

Asked if he would recommend the Prime Minister confess in church over the issue, he said: ‘Yes, of course. Yes. A breach of the law, which has damaging consequences for society, which damages trust, which damages the integrity and credibility not only of an individual but of the Government, yes, it seems to be perfectly appropriate for the confessional.’

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