Boris Johnson faces his ‘Michelle O’Neill’ moment – and resists demands to quit
Boris Johnson today weathered a storm of calls to quit, in what DUP MP Sammy Wilson described as his “Michelle O’Neill moment”.
The rising disquiet about the Prime Minister’s alleged flouting of his own lockdown rules came to a head at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, with political rivals savaging him over the controversy.
At the start of the day, Mr Wilson – who has been skeptical about the need for many of the lockdown measures over the last two years – said it would be “disastrous” if Mr Johnson tried deflecting awkward questions by pointing to the fact there is an ongoing investigation into his conduct.
But in the event this is exactly what Mr Johnson did, repeatedly telling MPs that they must await the outcome of that probe.
There has been a growing clamour for Mr Johnson to quit over the persistent claims that he ignored official Covid health advice number of times – particularly during a “bring-your-own-booze” get-together in Downing Street in May 2020.
A number of figures have drawn parallels between Mr Johnson’s behaviour and Sinn Fein’s disregard for Covid rules during the funeral of IRA enforcer Bobby Storey in summer of 2020.
Asked on BBC radio if Mr Johnson could decline to comment on the furore by citing the ongoing investigation into behaviour, Mr Wilson said: “‘If he does that it’ll be absolutely disastrous for himself.”
Mr Wilson said an unnamed “senior MP” had told him that “he should come clean... get this story killed so you don’t have every week some new revelation”.
He added: “If he avoids that today then I think he’s going to be in even greater trouble...
“This is his kind of Michelle O’Neill moment.”
In the wake of the Storey funeral, Ms O’Neill resisted similar calls to quit, saying she “will never apologise” for going to the event.
In the Commons today, Mr Johnson stood up and said at the outset of the session: “Mr Speaker I want to apologise.
“I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months I know the anguish they’ve been through unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love.
“And 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.
“And though I can’t anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry I’ve learned enough to know there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility.”
Sue Gray, a leading civil servant, is looking into a series of alleged parties held during lockdown in Westminster.
In particular Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds invited colleagues to “socially distanced drinks” on May 20, 2020, to “make the most of the lovely weather” – urging them to “bring your own booze”.
Labour leader Keir Starmer tore into the Prime Minister after his apology, saying: “There we have it. After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road.
“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?”
Boris Johnson said: “I appreciate the point that he’s making about the event that I attended.
“I want to repeat that I thought it was a work event and I regret very much that we did not do things differently that evening.
“I take responsibility and I apologise. But as for his political point, I don’t think that he should pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry.
“He will have a further opportunity, I hope, to question me as soon as possible.”
Stephen Farry, Alliance deputy leader, said: “Today’s apology is too little, too late.
“If the Prime Minister was sincere, he could have apologised at any stage over the last 18 months rather than waiting ‘til he was found out.
“For once can the Prime Ministerdo the honourable thing and resign, for the sake of the public health message and for standards in our democracy.”
Mr Johnson replied: “I grieve for everybody who has died and suffered.
“On his political point, can I propose he waits for the inquiry to report.”
More from this reporter:
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.
With the coronavirus lockdowns having had a major impact on many of our advertisers — and consequently the revenue we receive — we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.
Subscribe to newsletter.co.uk and enjoy unlimited access to the best Northern Ireland and UK news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content.
https://www.newsletter.co.uk/subscriptionsnow to sign up.
Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.
Ben Lowry, Editor