This statement yesterday in the House of Commons came from the Prime Minister following the document from Sue Gray that he had been reflecting on previously. It is very clear that this should be sufficient for him to resign. Sadly after these first few words he simply moved around the issue and failed to be respond appropriately. Instead he is claiming it is the numbers of staff that is the problem. A significant number of people who are opposed to Johnson and indeed very upset about what has happened are now planning to campaign. This is not a very good result and he should be willing to step down.
With permission, I will make a statement, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to Sue Gray for her report today, and I want to thank her for the work that she has done. I also thank the Metropolitan police for completing its investigation.
I want to begin today by renewing my apology to the House and to the whole country for the short lunchtime gathering on 19 June 2020 in the Cabinet Room, during which I stood at my place at the Cabinet table and for which I received a fixed penalty notice. I also want to say, above all, that I take full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch. Sue Gray’s report has emphasised that it is up to the political leadership in No. 10 to take ultimate responsibility, and, of course, I do. But since these investigations have now come to an end, this is my first opportunity to set out some of the context, and to explain both my understanding of what happened and what I have previously said to the House.
It is important to set out that over a period of about 600 days, gatherings on a total of eight dates have been found to be in breach of the regulations in a building that is 5,300 metres square across five floors, excluding the flats—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, I do think this is important, because it is the first chance I have had to set out the context. Hundreds of staff are entitled to work there, and the Cabinet Office, which has thousands of officials, is now the biggest that it has been at any point in its 100-year history. That is, in itself, one of the reasons why the Government are now looking for change and reform.
He carries on but only to defend him and focus on other people. a few moments later
It is clear from what Sue Gray has had to say that some of these gatherings then went on far longer than was necessary. They were clearly in breach of the rules, and they fell foul of the rules. I have to tell the House, because the House will need to know this—again, this is not to mitigate or to extenuate—that I had no knowledge of subsequent proceedings, because I simply was not there, and I have been as surprised and disappointed as anyone else in this House as the revelations have unfolded. Frankly, I have been appalled by some of the behaviour, particularly in the treatment of the security and the cleaning staff. I would like to apologise to those members of staff, and I expect anyone who behaved in that way to apologise to them as well.
So here are some of the comments from Conservative MPs.
Tobias Ellwood (Conservative Bournemouth East): This is a damning report about the absence of leadership, focus and discipline in No. 10, the one place where we expect to find those attributes in abundance. I have made my position very clear to the Prime Minister: he does not have my support. A question I humbly put to my colleagues is: are you willing, day in day out, to defend this behaviour publicly? Can we continue to govern without distraction, given the erosion of the trust of the British people? And can we win a general election on this trajectory?
John Baron (Conservative Basildon and Billericay): I believe both leaders have a lot to answer for with regard to this issue. The British Army teaches us, or certainly believes at its very core, that we serve to lead and we lead by example. Given the extent of rule breaking in No. 10, does my right hon. Friend believe that what he has said to the House since about there being no rule breaking passes the test of reasonableness?
Julian Lewis (Conservative New Forest East): Given the cavalier way in which these rules were interpreted in No. 10, does my right hon. Friend agree that rules of such intrusiveness and rigidity must never again be imposed on the British people as a whole?
Craig Mackinlay (Conservative South Thanet): My right hon. Friend will be aware that I voted against much of the covid legislation over the past couple of years, because I felt that a lot of it was pettifogging, ridiculous and unnecessary. I think this entire House should apologise to the British people for allowing a lot of this nonsense legislation to be in place. Whereas I take great comfort in and have respect for the fact that the courts tend to come to the same conclusion for the same offences, it would seem that the legislation we passed allowed an individual police force to come to different conclusions and certainly allowed different police forces to do so. From the photos I have seen, I would much rather have been at the curry and beer than the birthday party the Prime Minister had in the Cabinet room.
Inevitably there were one or two Conservative MPs that were much more supportive of the Prime Minister, and of course there were many MPs from other party’s that were very critical of him. However there is no clear reason for the Prime Minister to remain as our nations Prime Minister. The image above is a tweet that appeared a few hours previous to the discussion.