Givan: Public dont’ accept PM’s claim that party was work event

Northern Ireland’s First Minister has said the public have not accepted Boris Johnson’s claim that he believed the alleged Downing Street drinks party was a work event.

Thursday, 13th January 2022, 8:14 pm

Paul Givan said the controversy surrounding the Prime Minister was proving a distraction to efforts to convey public health messaging in Northern Ireland.

“I don’t think the public accepted that justification, if it was an attempt to justify that this wasn’t a party and that it was work-related,” he said.

“So ultimately, Boris Johnson needs to be able to convince the general public, he also needs to be able to convince his own party.

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First Minister Paul Givan took a swipe at Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and the Bobby Storey funeral.

“It is they who will decide the future of the Prime Minister. Either he takes a decision himself around his future or it’ll be the Conservative Party that will take that decision.

“And this report, I think, is going to be very important, which Sue Gray is responsible for.

“I think there is an imperative for that work to come to a conclusion so that we can all draw a line under this and ensure that the wider public health messaging is consistent, rather than being distracted by what’s going on at Downing Street.”

Mr Givan added: “We know from what the Prime Minister has now admitted that there was an event of Downing Street which he has said sorry over.

“He wishes and regrets what had happened and that should have been different to that.

“Now, what we need to get is this investigation as soon as possible, I don’t think it’s helpful to have this investigation going on for a protracted period of time.

“That should be done as quickly as we can and the Prime Minister has said that he takes responsibility and whenever that report is produced, then he’ll be tested on how is taking that responsibility.

“But, as a party, what has happened we have said shouldn’t have happened, it has undermined the public health messages.

“It’s right that the Prime Minister has said sorry for that.”

While not naming her, Mr Givan aimed criticism at Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill for her attendance at the mass funeral of republican Bobby Storey in Belfast in 2020 at a time when strict limits on such events were in place.

“I only wish in Northern Ireland other people that went to events, which was against the rules, had said sorry,” he said.

“Indeed, some have said that they would never apologise for some of the things that they attended.

“What I want to see is this report now published as soon as possible and then the Prime Minister will have to be tested on whether or not he’s going to take responsibility based upon the findings of that report.”

North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey said that “those who make the rules should not only abide by them but should be seen to do so”.

He added: “Whether Boris Johnson continues in office or resigns is a matter for him and Conservative MPs. We have seen closer to home how some of those involved in breaching Covid regulations simply brazened it out and made clear they would ‘never apologise’ for blatantly disregarding the regulations they helped design.”

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis yesterday urged people to wait for the outcome of the Gray inquiry before making judgments on the Prime Minister’s future, adding that Mr Johnson believed he was within the rules.

Cabinet ministers publicly defended Mr Johnson after his apology on Wednesday, but the late interventions of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Chancellor Rishi Sunak – both tipped as potential successors – did little to instil confidence in his future.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted the Cabinet fully supported Mr Johnson. Asked about the delay in Ms Truss and Mr Sunak showing their support, the spokesman said: “What the Prime Minister wants and expects is the Cabinet to be focused on delivering on the public’s priorities.”

But Mr Johnson faced open revolt from one wing of his party, as Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross urged him to quit, with almost all Tory MSPs supporting the call.

Three other Tory MPs publicly said Mr Johnson should go – Sir Roger Gale, former minister Caroline Nokes and chairman of the Public Affairs Committee William Wragg.