MPs weep in partygate debate as Boris faces fury for ducking showdown

11 January 2022, 12:49 | Updated: 11 January 2022, 16:15

By Will Taylor

MPs wept and made emotional remarks on coronavirus' death toll as Boris Johnson dodged a Commons debate about a newly revealed Downing Street lockdown party.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

The Prime Minister refused to speak to MPs on Tuesday after Labour tabled an urgent question asking if he would make a statement on the issue.

And earlier in the day, his official spokesman refused to comment on the allegations of events taking place when Covid rules effectively banned parties.

Jim Shannon, the DUP MP for Strangford, was unable to continue with his question to Michael Ellis, the MP who stood in for Mr Johnson, as he was overwhelmed with emotion.

"In Northern Ireland we reached the milestone of 3,000 deaths due to Covid just last week. Including my mother-in-law, who died alone," he told MPs, before having to sit down again without finishing what he wanted to say.

Mr Ellis, the paymaster general, said: "I'm very sorry for his loss. He's asking me if the results of the investigation will be made public, and they will be."

Dame Angela Eagle, the Labour former minister told the Commons: "Perhaps it would be faster if Sue Gray were to investigate the days there weren't parties."

She said Mr Ellis was there to "defend the utterly indefensible", and added: "We know, do we not, that an invite to a bring your own booze party was sent out for May 20 when 268 people died in hospital on that day.

"We know that it was illegal to meet anyone outside of your own household except one person overnight, so what is there to wait for?

"The Prime Minister should come here now, fess up and tell us what happened."

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said of Mr Johnson's absence from Parliament: "It is incredibly disappointing, but not unsurprising, that the Prime Minister of whom I asked this question is not here today despite not having any official engagements.

"I think his absence speaks volumes as does his smirks on the media, the public have already drawn their own conclusions. He can run but he can't hide."

The Metropolitan Police has confirmed it has contacted the Cabinet Office over a "bring your own booze party" in May 2020, which came to light from a leaked email.

Read more: 'It seems he's so bent he can't lie straight in bed': Nick Ferrari savages PM over parties

The message was sent by Mr Johnson's Principal Private Secretary, Martin Reynolds, in which 100 people were reportedly invited.

Outdoor social gatherings like that were not allowed under England's Covid rules at the time.

It has been alleged that Boris Johnson and wife Carrie attended, which caused outrage. The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said if he attended, his position would be "untenable" because he will have "lost all moral authority to lead the country".

Read more: Boris Johnson 'lied to the public and Parliament' over No 10 parties, Ed Davey says

Read more: No10 staff invited to lockdown-busting boozy party on 20 May 2020, leaked email reveals

During the Commons debate, Cabinet Office minister Mr Ellis said he and Mr Johnson had already set out how the allegations of Downing Street and Department for Education parties would be investigated.

"As I did then, I apologise again unreservedly for the upset that these allegations have caused," he told MPs, adding that claims of gatherings in May 2020 are part of the ongoing investigation.

Mr Ellis, who was heckled with cries of "where is he", said: "It will establish the facts and if wrongdoing is established there will be requisite disciplinary action taken.

"As with all internal investigations, if evidence emerges of what was a potentially criminal offence the matter would be referred to the Metropolitan Police and the Cabinet Office's work may be paused."

He added that it would "not be appropriate" for him to comment on the probe, but he went on to say: "It will establish the facts and if wrongdoing is established there will be requisite disciplinary action taken.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw asked: "If the Prime Minster broke the law, he will resign, won't he?"

Mr Ellis said: "It is an entirely hypothetical position.

"The Prime Minister is going nowhere. He seeks to draw me into making a supposition about the result of any inquiry. But the Prime Minister retains the confidence of the people of this country and he did so two years ago with the biggest majority in decades."

Before the Commons hearing, the PM's official spokesman declined to comment on the newly-reported party during an investigation, which is being led by civil servant Sue Gray.

He said: "I can't comment on the reports and claims, including those we've seen today.

"It wouldn't be appropriate to do so, I appreciate that may be a significant number of questions, but that remains our position.

"I think what everyone wants to do is establish the facts through this independent review and for those facts to be set out clearly once that work is concluded."

The spokesman added: "It is simply the case that we wouldn't want to be seen to be prejudging that ongoing work."

He said if police were to launch their own investigation it would pause the Cabinet Office probe.

Mr Reynolds, a civil servant, has faced calls to go. The spokesman told reporters Mr Johnson still have full confidence in him.