'I didn't realise it was a party': How Boris Johnson changed his story

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LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street For PMQ's on January 12, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
The Prime Minister's response to party allegations has changed since the story broke last year. (Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has admitted attending a party in Downing Street during the first lockdown, offering a heartfelt apology.

The prime minister acknowledged the public “rage” over the incident but insisted he believed it was a “work event” and had not been sent an email inviting him to “socially distanced drinks” in the garden.

The admission is the latest episode in an ongoing scandal over rule-breaking parties in Downing Street.

Johnson is now facing calls to resign from leading opposition figures, including Sir Keir Starmer, who said: “His defence … that he didn’t realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public.”

Watch: Johnson apologises and admits attending No 10 ‘bring your own booze’ event

What has Boris Johnson said about allegations of Downing Street parties?

The prime minister has now admitted attending a “bring your own booze” gathering in the garden of No 10 during England’s first lockdown in May 2020.

It is the closest the PM has come to admitting wrongdoing after months of accusations that No 10 staff – and the PM himself – flouted lockdown rules.

The claim which kicked off the allegations was that a Christmas party was held for Downing Street staff on 18 December, 2020, when London was in Tier 3 measures.

When the story first broke, Johnson has repeatedly denied that parties ever took place or that rules were broken, as well as denying he broke the rules himself.

The Daily Mirror published a story on 30 November last year claiming officials and advisers made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts.

The prime minister is not thought to have attended this gathering.

Allegra Stratton speaking outside her home in north London where she announced that she has resigned as an adviser to Boris Johnson and offered her
The PM's former spokeswoman Allegra Stratton quit. (Getty Images)

When the story emerged, Johnson dismissed the reports multiple times and dodged questions in various interviews.

During Prime Minister’s Questions on 1 December, Sir Keir asked Johnson if a party had occurred.

The PM did not deny an event had happened but said "all guidance was followed".

Johnson again refused to deny a party was held during an interview with reporters on 7 December, adding: "I've satisfied myself that the guidelines were followed at all times."

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Johnson only addressed the issue head-on when footage emerged of his former spokeswoman Allegra Stratton joking about the party with fellow aides at a mock press conference.

Stratton later resigned and apologised.

The PM addressed the issue in Parliament on 8 December, apologising for any “offence caused”.

He said: “I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no COVID rules were broken.

“That is what I have been repeatedly assured.

“But I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible.

“It goes without saying that if those rules were broken, there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday January 12, 2022. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for Johnson to resign. (Getty Images)

Wednesday has become the most difficult and damaging for the prime minister throughout the saga, with his own party starting to turn against him.

Tory MP Sir Roger Gale said it was already clear that Johnson misled Parliament and that politically he was a “dead man walking”, adding that it was either up to him to quit or be forced out by the backbench Conservative 1922 Committee.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross urged the PM to quit, saying his “position is no longer tenable”.

Cabinet minister and Welsh secretary Simon Hart acknowledged the issue was damaging the Conservatives and the running of government.

He said: “I’ve not met anybody who is not deeply, deeply conscious of the effect that this has on people’s attitudes to not just the political party … but the government and the smooth running of the nation.”

Johnson’s former aide, Dominic Cummings, now one of the Prime Minister’s fiercest opponents, said the claim that the event was “technically within the rules” is “bulls***”.

Amid growing public anger, two snap polls found a majority now believed Johnson should stand down as Prime Minister.

A Savanta ComRes study found 66% of British adults thought he should quit, with 24% saying he should stay, while a YouGov survey for Sky News found 56% believed he should go, with 27% saying he should remain.

Watch: Boris Johnson's 'insulting' apology 'rubs salt into wounds', COVID victims' families say

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