Keir Starmer has called in parliament for Boris Johnson to resign immediately for misleading MPs over Downing Street parties, saying the prime minister’s continued attempts to save his career were causing “immense damage to public trust”.
During a prime minister’s questions so unruly that at one point the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, warned shouting MPs that they may be removed from the Commons, Starmer said the decision of police to launch an investigation meant the weight of evidence about the parties was now clear.
While Johnson refused to discuss either the police inquiry, or the imminent civil service report on the alleged lockdown-breaching gatherings, he agreed with Starmer’s question that under the ministerial code, if it were found he had misled parliament he should resign.
“I think the prime minister said yes, he agrees the code does apply to him. Perciò, if he misled parliament, he must resign,” the Lavoro duro e faticoso leader told MPs.
Starmer reminded Johnson of statements in the Commons in December in which the PM said Covid guidance “was followed completely in No 10”, and that he had been “repeatedly assured” there were no parties. This was clearly untrue, Starmer said, aggiungendo: “Since he acknowledges the ministerial code applies to him, will he now resign?"
The inquiry, led by the senior civil servant Sue Gray, is expected to be handed to Downing Street shortly, possibly on Wednesday, and will be published soon after. Challenged by Starmer to commit to publishing it in full, Johnson gave an ambiguous answer, saying he would “do exactly what I said”.
The Met police announcement on Tuesday that they would look into the claims said this had happened because there was “little ambiguity” about the possibility that Covid regulations might have been broken, Starmer said.
“The police had to take a decision as to whether what they had before them was the most serious and flagrant type of breach in the rules,” he told Johnson. “Does the prime minister really not understand the damage his behaviour is doing to our country?"
Johnson replied by saying he had “got all the big calls right” on Covid, dismissing Starmer’s questioning as ignoring the main issues of the day, and repeating his name-calling of the Labour leader as “Captain Hindsight”.
In response, Starmer noted Johnson’s apology to the Commons a fortnight before in which the prime minister had said he had attended an event in the No 10 garden in May 2020, but had believed at the time it was a work function: “This is the guy who said in hindsight he now appreciates it was a party. We’ve discovered the real Captain Hindsight, haven’t we?"
Efforts to defend Johnson were doing “immense damage to public trust”, Starmer said, aggiungendo: “The police say the evidence meets the test. Frankly the public have made up their minds. They know he’s not fit for the job. How much damage are the prime minister and his cabinet prepared to do to save his skin?"
Starmer continued: “We now have the shameful spectacle of the 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.”
Johnson, who was cheered loudly by some of his backbenchers, repeated his charge that Starmer was ignoring more relevant issues, and added more personal abuse, calling him, “a lawyer, not a leader”.