PM to 'admit serious partygate mistakes' in a bid to prove he is 'right man to lead'

26 January 2022, 10:34 | Updated: 27 January 2022, 10:14

PM will acknowledge 'serious mistakes' over the Partygate.
PM will acknowledge 'serious mistakes' over the Partygate. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

Boris Johnson will acknowledge 'serious mistakes' over the Partygate but will not commit to publishing the full Sue Gray report, sources have revealed.

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The Prime Minister said he "regrets" not strictly enforcing lockdown rules in Downing Street during the pandemic but stands by the notion that "he is still the right man to lead" the country. 

Mr Johnson yesterday held one-to-one meetings with 15 MPs to try and persuade them he is the right man for the job by explaining his strategy for restoring government trust and letting MPs voice their concerns and grievances.

Downing Street has insisted it 'intends' to publish fully the official inquiry into partying allegations but failed to deliver a concrete pledge. The comments come amid growing pressure to reveal the report in full.

There were suggestions that due to Thursday being Holocaust Memorial Day and many MPs being back in their constituencies from Thursday afternoon, No 10 may hold off on publishing the report once it was received.

However, Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said the conclusions would be important enough to bring to the House straight away.

Mr Johnson is still waiting to receive the results of senior civil servant Sue Gray's probe into claims of lockdown breaches in No 10, but at PMQs he failed to offer a concrete pledge that the report would be released in full and unredacted.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been among those calling for it to be published in full, as he warned against a possible "cover-up" if it is not.

Chris Bryant, chairman of the Commons' standards committee, tweeted on Monday morning that "the Sue Gray report must be published in full. Anything less is a cover up."

Liz Truss said that the report may be redacted for ‘security’ reasons. Ms Truss, the foreign secretary, said parts of the internal inquiry could be "problematic to publish".

"We have been absolutely clear that we will publish the findings of the report," she said.

The Prime Minister, who is fighting to keep his job in the avalanche of allegations about Covid rule-breaking parties at No10 and Whitehall, tried to evade the Labour leader's grilling during a combative PMQs.

Mr Johnson repeatedly trotted out his Government's achievements as Sir Keir tried to push him on whether he would release the Sue Gray investigation report in full and whether he would have to quit if he misled Parliament.

Sir Keir, after asking Mr Johnson if the Government's ministerial code - which governs how ministers should behave - applied to him, said: "I think the Prime Minister said yes, he agrees the code does apply to him. Therefore, if he misled Parliament he must resign.

"On December 1, the Prime Minister told this House in relation to parties during lockdown: 'All guidance was followed completely in Number 10', from that despatch box.

"On December 8 the Prime Minister told this House: 'I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged there was no party'. So since he acknowledges the ministerial code applies to him, will he now resign?"

Mr Johnson said: "No, Mr Speaker. Since he asked about Covid restrictions, let me just remind the House, and indeed remind the country, that he has been relentlessly opportunistic throughout.

"He has flip-flopped from one side to the other, he would have kept us in lockdown in the summer, he would have taken us back into lockdown at Christmas.

"It is precisely because we didn't listen to Captain Hindsight that we have the fastest-growing economy in the G7 and we have got all the big calls right."

Sir Keir told him: "The reality is we now have the shameful spectacle of a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom being subject to a police investigation, unable to lead the country, incapable of doing the right thing, and every day his Cabinet fail to speak out they become more and more complicit."

Mr Johnson hit back: "Of course he wants me out of the way, he does, I don't deny it, for all sorts of reasons many people may want me out of the way, but I'll tell you the reason why he wants me out of the way, it's because he knows this Government can be trusted to deliver."

Ms Gray, the senior civil servant, is due to release her findings, with some suggestions it could be released on Wednesday.

In a tempestuous encounter with Sir Keir, Mr Johnson was pushed on whether he would release her report in full.

"We've got to leave the report to the independent investigator, as he knows, of course when I receive it, of course, I will do exactly what I said," Mr Johnson insisted.

Earlier on Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said it would be published "fairly imminently".

As Westminster awaits the report's publication, Mr Johnson came under fire for more damaging claims about a birthday event at No10 in which his wife Carrie gave him a cake as others sang "happy birthday".

Speaking on LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast, Ms Truss was asked when Ms Gray's report will be released.

She said: "I don't know is the answer, I think it's fairly imminent but we don't know when it will be."

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The Met has launched its own probe into partygate, and Boris Johnson said on Tuesday he welcomed the investigation so a line could be drawn under the saga.

Downing Street said on Tuesday afternoon the Government wants the report to be published "as soon as possible" and insisted No10 is not trying to block its publication.

The PM's spokesman said he would cooperate fully if officers needed to speak with him.

He said parts of the Gray inquiry would not be published until the police investigation was concluded.

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Boris Johnson was pictured going for a run before his PMQs showdown
Boris Johnson was pictured going for a run before his PMQs showdown. Picture: Alamy

Other sections would be put out, the spokesman said, later acknowledging he was aware of "speculation" that the Met did not object to the report being published.

Dame Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said on Tuesday: "As a result firstly of the information provided by the Cabinet Office inquiry team and secondly my officers' own assessment, I can confirm that the Met is now investigating a number of events that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to potential breaches of Covid 19 regulations."

She added that updates would be given at "significant points" and went on: "The fact that we are now investigating does not, of course, mean that fixed penalty notices will necessarily be issued in every instance and to every person involved.”

Recent revelations include claims of a birthday bash for Boris Johnson in June 2020, when England was under tight indoor socialising rules to curb the spread of Covid - limiting them to the "rule of six".

It was reported that up to 30 people went to a "surprise" party when Mr Johnson's wife Carrie presented him with a cake and staff sang "happy birthday".

Downing Street denied a claim he hosted a gathering in the PM's residence, saying he hosted a small number family and friends outside.

Despite some Conservatives calling for him to go, others have rallied. In much-ridiculed intervention, Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns told Channel 4 News: "It was not a premeditated, organised party in that sense, that the Prime Minister himself decided to have. As far as I can see, he was, in a sense, ambushed with a cake.

"They came to his office with a cake, they sang happy birthday, he was there for 10 minutes.

"I don't think most people looking at that at home would characterise that as a party."

Past revelations have seen Mr Johnson apologise to MPs for attending a garden drinks do in May 2020, which he insisted he believed was a work event.

Downing Street also had to say sorry to the Queen for an event attended by some Government staff on the eve of Prince Philip's funeral, which the monarch attended under Covid rules.