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PM: Staff worked hard in the pandemic and I wanted to thank them

Boris Johnson gave an explanation of the events following the publication of the Sue Gray report (Daniel Leal/PA)
Boris Johnson gave an explanation of the events following the publication of the Sue Gray report (Daniel Leal/PA)

Boris Johnson insisted he was not seeking to “absolve myself from responsibility” after the publication of the damning Sue Gray inquiry into partygate.

The Prime Minister issued an apology to MPs as he made use of what he said was “the first chance I’ve had to set out the context” to the law-breaking gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are the key points he set out in the House of Commons to explain the events:

Downing Street partygate
Boris Johnson raises what appears to be a beer on his birthday (Sue Gray report/PA)

– The Downing Street sprawl

Mr Johnson acknowledged that over a period of around 600 days gatherings on eight dates broke coronavirus rules, resulting in 126 fines from police, including one for himself.

But he added that the building is “5,300 metres square across five floors – excluding the flats”, suggesting he therefore cannot know everything that goes on inside the complex.

– The sheer size of the staff

Hundreds of staff are entitled to work in No 10, he explained, with thousands more in the Cabinet Office, which he said has swelled to its largest size in history.

“That is in itself one of the reasons why the Government is now looking for change and reform,” he said.

– Hard work during the pandemic

Mr Johnson said his staff were entitled to be in the office during lockdown restrictions due to exemptions for the nature of their work.

“These people were working extremely long hours doing their best to give this country the ability to fight the pandemic,” he said.

– As a leader, he wanted to say thanks

Downing Street partygate
Boris Johnson at one leaving party (PA/Sue Gray report)

Some of the rule-breaking parties happened during leaving dos for staff that had worked on the coronavirus response.

“The exemption under which they were present in Downing Street includes those circumstances where officials and advisers were leaving the Government,” Mr Johnson said.

“And it was appropriate to recognise and to thank them for the work they’ve done.

“I briefly attended such gatherings to thank them for their service, which I believe is one of the essential duties of leadership and particularly important when people need to feel that their contributions had been appreciated and to keep morale as high as possible.”

– Debauchery, what debauchery?

Mr Johnson said it was clear from Ms Gray’s report that some of the gatherings he initially attended “then went on far longer than was necessary” and were “clearly in breach of the rules”.

“I had no knowledge of those subsequent proceedings because I simply wasn’t there and I’ve been as surprised and disappointed as anyone else in this House as the revelations have unfolded,” he said.

– He thought he was speaking truthfully

Downing Street partygate
Cabinet Office investigator Sue Gray (PA/Gov.UK)

The Prime Minister said that when he repeatedly told the Commons there had been no rule-breaking, “it was what I believed to be true”.

“When I came to this House and said in all sincerity that the rules and guidance had been followed at all times, it was what I believed to be true,” he said.

– Lesson learned

Mr Johnson was fighting to stay in office despite Ms Gray concluding that “senior leadership” must “bear responsibility” for the rule-breaking culture at the heart of his Government.

He faced jeers when he told MPs “the entire senior management has changed”, with a new chief of staff, communications chief and principal private secretary.

“I am humbled and I have learned a lesson,” he said.