The basic question Boris Johnson refused to answer over Partygate - ‘This is just embarrassing’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday January 19, 2022.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during prime minister's questions in the House of Commons, London. (PA)

Boris Johnson is not having an easy week.

Following his confession he attended a "bring your own booze" party in the garden of Number 10 in May 2020, the prime minister has faced calls from his own benches and across the political spectrum to resign.

But the embattled PM has continued to claim he believed the now-infamous gathering to be a "work event", and insisted had he been warned the party was not within the rules, he wouldn't have allowed it to go ahead.

He also dismissed claims staff had warned him that the event was against the rules.

A visibly downtrodden Johnson cut a sombre figure in a bruising media interview on Tuesday, in stark contrast to his upbeat appearance at prime minister's questions the following day.

However, he couldn't seem to answer a simple question about the party in question as he tried to come back with a vengeance, with some MPs saying his showing was "just embarrassing".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked Johnson when he first became aware that any of his staff had “concerns” about the gathering.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, London, to attend Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament. Picture date: Wednesday January 19, 2022.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street to attend PMQs at the Houses of Parliament. (PA)

Starmer said: “Not only did he write the rules, but some of his staff say they did warn him about attending the party on May 20, 2020.

“Now, I have heard the prime minister’s very carefully crafted response to that accusation. It almost sounds like a lawyer wrote it. So, I’ll be equally careful with my question. When did the prime minister first become aware that any of his staff had concerns about the May 20 party?”

But rather than give a date, Johnson once again made reference to an inquiry into the party allegations lead by senior civil servant Sue Gray, whose findings are expected to be published next week.

Johnson replied “it is for the inquiry to come forward with an explanation of what happened”, adding: “I am afraid he simply must wait.”

Among the events being investigated is a leaving party held the night before the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral in April.

Labour MP Carolyn Harris called the PM's appearance at PMQs
Labour MP Carolyn Harris called the PM's appearance at PMQs "embarrassing". (Twitter/@carolynharris24)
Florence Eshalomi MP echoed her sentiments (Twitter)
Florence Eshalomi MP echoed her sentiments (Twitter/@floeshalomi)
Imran Hussain MP slated the PM for avoiding the questions (Twitter)
Imran Hussain MP slated the PM for avoiding the questions (Twitter/@imran_hussainMP)

It is said to have become so out of hand that a swing set for the PM's toddler son was broken and staff smuggled booze into Downing Street using a suitcase.

Mentioning the inquiry has been a frequent answer from the PM, who has so far ignored calls to quit.

Starmer asked: "If the prime minister misleads parliament, should they resign?”

Johnson replied: “(Sir Keir) is continuing to ask a series of questions which he knows will be fully addressed by the inquiry, he is wasting this House’s time, he is wasting the people’s time, and continues to be completely irrelevant.”

Starmer countered: “I know it’s not going well prime minister, but look on the bright side – at least his staff at Number 10 know how to pack a suitcase.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday January 19, 2022.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer countering the PM during PMQs on Wednesday. (PA)

Starmer added Johnson's defence required the public to believe that “as he waded through the empty bottles and platters of sandwiches, he didn’t realise it was a party”.

He asked: “Does the prime minister realise how ridiculous that sounds?”

But Johnson once again deflected the question – citing an image of Starmer while campaigning for a by-election having a beer in a constituency office in May 2021.

Johnson said “lots of people are interested in the exact legal justification” for the picture of the Labour leader “drinking a pint of beer, of a bottle of beer”.

The PM added: “Perhaps he can tell the House about that in a minute. But what I can tell the House is that throughout the pandemic, people across government have been working flat out to protect the British public.”

A view of Bury South MP Christian Wakeford sitting on the opposition benches during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday January 19, 2022.
Just minutes before PMQs, MP Christian Wakeford made a public defection to the Labour party. (PA)

Johnson's appearance comes as he faces an increasingly noisy rebellion among his back benches after he admitted attending a party at Downing Street during the nation's first national lockdown.

Just minutes before PMQs, MP Christian Wakeford made a public defection from the Conservative Party to Labour.

Despite issuing a grovelling apology during last week's PMQs and on Wednesday reiterating he thought it was a "work event" and "nobody told me" otherwise, the unrest among his own party has refused to die down.

Repeated questions have been asked about how the prime minister didn't realise that the party went against the COVID lockdown rules which he himself set.

Watch: Boris Johnson hit by Tory MP's defection to Labour before PMQs