Boris Johnson has said “nobody told me” the Number 10 garden party during lockdown was “against the rules”.
The prime minister said he “humbly apologises” to people for “misjudgements” that were made, but he would not have gone ahead with the event, to which 100 people were invited, on 20 May 2020 if he thought it broke the rules.
He said: “I’m saying categorically that nobody told me, nobody said this was something that was against the rules, doing something that wasn’t a work event because frankly, I can’t imagine why it would have gone ahead, or it would have been allowed to go ahead if it was against the rules.”
The pressure on the PM shows no signs of abating, however, with one Conservative MP telling Sky News politics producer Mollie Malone that things are “nearly there” in terms of reaching the required 54 letters to trigger a vote of no-confidence in his leadership.
They described the past weekend as a “turning point” and said they give the PM “a week” before he is gone.
Another told political correspondent Joe Pike that the PM looked “absolutely beaten” in his latest interview, describing his performance as “awful” and like a “bad amateur dramatics performance”.
Meanwhile, deputy political editor Sam Coates has been told that “lots of conversations” are happening between 2019 intake Tory MPs and there is a “resolve” among them that Mr Johnson should go.
“But there’s a fear if the vote of no confidence comes before the Sue Gray report is out then Boris Johnson might win, and he could be safe for a year. They think things might not move before then,” Coates added.
Mr Johnson’s latest comments come following claims from his former top adviser Dominic Cummings that the prime minister knew in advance about the Downing Street drinks party – which Number 10 has denied.
Mr Johnson said: “My memory is going out into the garden for about 25 minutes, which I implicitly thought was a work event, and talking to staff, thanking staff.
“I then went back to my office and continued my work.
“I carry full responsibility for what took place, nobody said to me ‘this is an event that’s against the rules, in breach of what we’re asking everybody else to do’.”
He added that is exactly what he has told the inquiry into several Downing Street lockdown events by top civil servant Sue Gray, who is due to report back next week.
Mr Johnson admitted on reflection he “should have looked around and told people to go back indoors” after realising it was not a work event.
He said he wanted to “repeat my apologies for misjudgements I’ve made” after saying sorry in the House of Commons last week following mounting pressure over attending the event.
Asked about two parties alleged to have taken place on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, Mr Johnson looked down and appeared distressed.
“I deeply and bitterly regret that happened, I can only renew my apology to Her Majesty and to apologise for misjudgements made and for which I take full responsibility,” he said.
ANALYSIS: PM KNOWS HOW MUCH TROUBLE HE’S IN
Boris Johnson looked beaten, distressed and out of options. His tone was intended to reiterate that humble apology which he says he gave in the House of Commons last week.
But when we drove into the detail about what he did or didn’t know, it was uncomfortable.
He was clear he had no recollection of Dominic Cummings verbally warning him about the event on 20 May going ahead, or that he was warned that it could be in breach of guidelines.
It will be up to Sue Gray to uncover the truth. But where is he right now? It’s clear the prime minister is feeling the pressure and clearly understands the trouble he is in.
For me, the most striking moment of the interview was when I asked him about those parties held on the night before the funeral of Prince Philip. He looked visibility upset about that.
He hung his head and said he deeply and bitterly regretted that that happened. And he apologised to the Queen and to the country.
I asked him repeatedly if it emerges that he misled parliament whether he would resign? He didn’t rule it out. He said he would wait for the Sue Gray report.
He was dodging the question, but it won’t go away – and even then there’s another question: can this PM hold on, or does his party think it’s time to go? That is a very, very precarious position from him to be in.
Mr Cummings yesterday claimed Mr Johnson gave the May 2020 garden party the go-ahead so lied to parliament when he said he did not know, but the PM denied this.
Mr Johnson also said he only saw the email invite for the event from his right-hand man Martin Reynolds the other day, when it was revealed to the media.
The PM is facing calls for his resignation, including from some of his own MPs, over the issue but has said the investigation into the parties must be allowed “space” to be concluded.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, reacting to the PM’s interview, said he “clearly knows it’s the end of the road”.
“He’s the prime minister, he set the rules, he didn’t need anyone to tell him that the party he attended broke them,” she said.
“If he had any respect for the British public, he would do the decent thing and resign.”
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM JOHNSON INTERVIEW
- His core defence is now “nobody told me” – the PM argues his team did not tell him Number 10 garden party was against the rules.
- The PM specifically denied Dominic Cummings’s claim that he lied.
- The PM confirmed he personally apologised to the Queen for the raucous Number 10 parties held the night before her husband’s funeral.
- Mr Johnson also confirmed he has spoken to senior civil servant Sue Gray as part of her investigation into rule-breaking parties.
- The prime minister did not rule out resigning.
Senior Tories leave open idea PM would have to resign if code breached
Senior cabinet members have said they believe Mr Johnson, but both Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Chancellor Rishi Sunak pointed out the ministerial code “is clear on these matters”.
The code says: “It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity.
“Ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the prime minister.”
Mr Sunak, when asked if he supported the PM unequivocally, got up and left without answering.
Before that, asked if he believed the PM, he said: “Of course I do, the prime minister set out his understanding of this matter in parliament last week and I’d refer you to his words.
“As you know, Sue Gray is conducting an enquiry into this matter and I fully support the prime minister’s request for patience while that inquiry concludes.”
The chancellor said he would not “get into hypotheticals” following Mr Cummings’ claim Mr Johnson lied to parliament.
“The ministerial code is clear on these matters,” he added.
And Mr Raab told the BBC if a minister lies and it is deliberate it is “normally” a resigning matter, under the ministerial code.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman also said the code “is very clear when it comes to knowingly misleading the House” and the PM “abides by that, and we fully support it”.
Asked if the PM would resign if he misled parliament, the spokesman said: “It’s important not to jump ahead.”
He also denied Mr Johnson had ever lied to parliament.