The Prime Minister said he believed the “bring your own booze” gathering was a “work event” and admitted regret over the way it was handled.
Addressing MPs in the Commons, he admitted he attended the 20 May 2020 event for around 25 minutes to “thank groups of staff” and believed “implicitly” that it was a work function.
He said “with hindsight” he should have sent staff back inside, but insisted he thought the event could have technically been within lockdown rules.
He told the Commons: “No 10 is a big department with a garden as an extension of the office which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus.
“When I went into that garden just after six on May 20, 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event.
“With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them.
“I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there are millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who have suffered terribly, people who were forbidden for meeting loved ones at all inside or outside, and to them and to this House I offer my heartfelt apologies.”
Mr Johnson said that senior official Sue Gray should be allowed to complete her inquiry into a series of alleged parties held during lockdown in No 10 and Whitehall “so that the full facts can be established”.
He also acknowledged public anger over the event, adding: “I know the rage they feel with me and with the government I lead when they think in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.
“Though I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry, I have learned enough to know there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility.”
An ‘offence to the British public’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer branded the PM’s defence ‘offence to the British public’ and called on Mr Johnson to resign.
He said: “After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road.
“His defence … that he didn’t realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public.
“He’s finally been forced to admit what everyone knew, that when the whole country was locked down he was hosting boozy parties in Downing Street.
“Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?”
The Labour leader said Mr Johnson’s attendance at Downing Street parties is “a clear breach of the rules” and “of the ministerial code”.
He added: “That code says ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation.
“The party’s over, Prime Minister. The only question is will the British public kick him out, will his party kick him out or will he do the decent thing and resign?”
The PM said he understands it is the objective of the Labour leader to try to remove him from office, which he ‘appreciates and accepts’, but added that Sir Keir wait until the inquiry has concluded.
He replied: “May I humbly suggest to him that he should wait until the inquiry has concluded, he should study it for himself and I will certainly respond as appropriate – and I hope that he does – but in the meantime, yes, I certainly wish that things had happened differently on the evening of May 20 and I apologise for all the misjudgements that have been made for which I take full responsibility.”