The Prime Minister was asked—
May I begin by saying that I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing No. 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures? I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that the people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules, because I was also furious to see that clip. I apologise unreservedly for the offence that it has caused up and down the country, and I apologise for the impression that it gives.
I repeat that I have been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no covid rules were broken. That is what I have been repeatedly assured. But I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible. It goes without saying that if those rules were broken, there will be disciplinary action for all those involved.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and in addition to my duties in this House I shall have further such meetings later today.
Bins left uncollected, council tenants being forced to live in damp and cold homes, £22 million lost on the Providence Place land deal and a £10 million overspend on special educational needs and disability transport contracts that were almost awarded to Labour councillors’ friends—today, our council’s external auditors released a damning report that surprises none of us. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that 47 years of Labour control in Sandwell has done nothing but level down my constituency of West Bromwich East, and that my constituents in West Bromwich, Friar Park and Great Barr deserve better?
Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend, because the instinct of Labour councillors up and down this country is, yet again, to level down rather than to level up. I encourage her constituents to install a Labour council there—[Interruption]—a Conservative council there as soon as possible.
I heard what the Prime Minister said at the beginning of this session, but frankly it raises more questions than answers. Last week, I asked the Prime Minister: was there
“a Christmas party…in Downing Street for dozens of people on 18 December?”—[Official Report, 1 December 2021; Vol. 704, c. 909.]
The Prime Minister and the Government spent the week telling the British public that there was no party and that all guidance was followed completely. Millions of people now think the Prime Minister was taking them for fools and that they were lied to; they are right, aren’t they?
I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman probably missed what I said at the beginning, but I apologise for the impression that has been given that staff in Downing Street take this less than seriously. I am sickened myself and furious about that, but I repeat what I have said to him: I have been repeatedly assured that the rules were not broken—[Interruption.]
An internal investigation into what happened? The situation is as clear as day. I thought last week was bad enough; surely the Prime Minister is not now going to start pretending that the first he knew about this was last night—surely.
We have all watched the video of the Prime Minister’s staff, including his personal spokesperson. They knew there was a party, they knew it was against the rules, they knew they could not admit it and they thought it was funny. It is obvious what happened—Ant and Dec are ahead of the Prime Minister on this. The Prime Minister has been caught red-handed; why does he not end the investigation right now by just admitting it?
Because I have been repeatedly assured that no rules were broken. I understand public anxiety about this and I understand public indignation, but there is a risk of doing a grave injustice to people who were, frankly, obeying the rules. That is why the Cabinet Secretary will be conducting an investigation and that is why there will be the requisite disciplinary action if necessary.
This pretence that further information has come to light—give me a break! The Prime Minister is still taking the public for fools.
On the day of the Downing Street party, Trisha Greenhalgh’s mum phoned her; she was “breathless and feverish”—[Interruption.] You might want to listen. Trisha followed the rules and did not visit her mum. Listening? Four days later, on the day the Prime Minister’s staff laughed about covering up the party, Trisha’s mum was admitted to hospital. Trisha followed the rules and did not visit. Trisha’s mum spent Christmas day in hospital; Trisha followed the rules and did not visit. Two days later, Trisha’s mum died. What Trisha wants to know is: why did the Prime Minister expect her to accept that the rules allowed a Downing Street party but did not allow her to visit her dying mother?
The first thing to say is that, in common with everybody in this House, I extend my sympathies to Trisha and her family. I understand the pain of everybody who has suffered throughout this pandemic.
I know the implication that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is trying to draw: that the case that we are now investigating should somehow undermine public confidence in the measures that we are taking. I think that is the point he is trying to make, but I say to him that I think it is a great mistake to try to play politics with this issue, and I think that is what he is doing. I do not think the public do want to see confidence in the measures undermined. We are taking—[Interruption.] I think they can see the difference. We are taking the steps necessary to protect the public, above all by rolling out the vaccinations. Rather than focusing on the events of a year ago, that is what we are focusing on and that is what I think the public will understand.
But it is not just the events of a year ago, is it? We are facing a new variant. We may well be in plan B this afternoon. Even the Prime Minister must understand the damage that he has done to his credibility in enforcing the rules now and in the future. Trisha made an enormous personal sacrifice to do the right thing—to follow the rules and help defeat the virus. That is what she was asked to do. Most people were just like Trisha last Christmas. No one was dreaming of a Zoom Christmas, turkey dinners for one, and gifts exchanged at service stations, but the virus was out of control. Four hundred and eighty nine people died of covid on the day of the Downing Street party. The British people put the health of others above themselves and followed the rules. Is the Prime Minister not ashamed that his Downing Street could not do the same?
I have said what I have said about the events on 18 December. They will be properly investigated, Mr Speaker, and I will place a copy of the Cabinet Secretary’s report in the Library of the House of Commons. What people should not do is lose focus on what we are trying to do now. Of course we will deal with what may or may not have taken place on 18 December last year, but what we need to focus on today is what we are doing to roll out the vaccinations across the country and what we are doing to protect the public. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is indeed right that we now have, in the omicron variant, a variant that is spreading much faster than any that we have seen before, and, with great respect to him, that is what we need to focus on. That is why I ask everybody to go to get their booster jab as soon as they are called to come forward.
The Prime Minister apparently wants us to focus on what is happening today. There were no Government spokespersons on the media this morning—I see that the Health Secretary has made it to the Chamber. That is the point: this virus is not defeated. We will face other tests where the British people may be asked by their leaders to make further sacrifices for the greater good. Her Majesty the Queen sat alone when she marked the passing of the man whom she had been married to for 73 years. Leadership, sacrifice—that is what gives leaders the moral authority to lead. Does the Prime Minister think that he has the moral authority to lead and to ask the British people to stick to the rules?
Yes, Mr Speaker. Throughout this pandemic, the Leader of the Opposition in particular has done nothing but play politics to try to muddy the waters, to confuse the public and to cause needless confusion about the guidance. The public have not been so confused and they have not been fooled. They have got on with implementing the guidance, and, in particular, they have got on with showing great commitment to the health of this country by going forward to get vaccinated—[Interruption.]
At every stage, the Labour leadership and the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer), have tried to muddy the waters and play politics, but the people of this country have not been fooled. In particular, they have come forward to get vaccinated faster than any other country in Europe. We have now done 20 million boosters; that is the single best thing that we can do. I encourage everybody to keep going and get their booster jab.
That is so desperate, and even the Prime Minister’s own side can see it. Last week, the Prime Minister told us there was no party. Now he thinks that there is something to investigate. The Justice Secretary thinks that the police do not investigate crimes from a year ago. Well, I ran the Crown Prosecution Service and I can tell him that that is total nonsense. At Westminster magistrates court right now, the CPS is prosecuting more than a dozen breaches of covid restrictions last December—including those, Prime Minister, who hosted parties. The CPS is doing its job, enforcing the law set in Downing Street. Will the Prime Minister support the police and the CPS by handing over everything that the Government know about parties in Downing Street to the Metropolitan police?
Of course we will do that, and we will get on with the investigation by the Cabinet Secretary. The right hon. and learned Gentleman continually wants to play politics with this issue. We want to get on with our job of protecting this country during the pandemic, delivering the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, fighting the drugs gangs when the Labour party wants to decriminalise class A drugs, and backing our Nationality and Borders Bill. The Opposition have an opportunity to focus on that tonight; why not back our borders Bill and have life sentences for people traffickers? That is what the Leader of the Opposition should be doing and that is what I urge him to do, rather than playing politics.
I thank my hon. Friend for everything that she does, particularly as special envoy for freedom of religion or belief. As she rightly says, we have an Afghan citizens resettlement scheme coming. We have already taken 15,000, but it is important that we get that scheme right. Further details, including the eligibility criteria, will be announced by the Home Office in due course.
We are standing on the cliff edge of yet another challenging moment in this pandemic. Omicron cases are rising at a rapid rate, and over the coming weeks tough decisions will again have to be made to save lives and protect our NHS. Trust in leadership is a matter of life and death. Downing Street wilfully broke the rules and mocked the sacrifices that we have all made, shattering the public’s trust. The Prime Minister is responsible for losing the trust of the people. He can no longer lead on the most pressing issue facing these islands. The Prime Minister has a duty: the only right and moral choice left to him is his resignation. When can we expect it?
No dignity from a Prime Minister who quite simply just does not get it. People across these islands have followed the rules, even when it meant missing friends and family, missing births, missing funerals, missing the chance to be beside a loved one in their dying moments. People have sacrificed, at times to the point of breaking, while the UK Government have laughed in our faces.
It is clear that the Prime Minister has lost the support of the public and now even his own Benches. This is not a grin-and-bear-it moment; this is a moment of moral reckoning. Every Member on the Conservative Benches must now decide: is this the man to lead these islands when lives are at stake? It is clear that this Prime Minister intends desperately to cling on to power, and I have nothing left to say to a man whose answers we simply cannot trust, so Mr Speaker—[Interruption.]
They are questioning this Parliament and questioning this Prime Minister that we cannot trust.
It is clear that the Prime Minister is desperately clinging on to power, and I have got nothing left to say to a man who we simply cannot trust. It is time for Members in this House to act. If he does not resign, he must be removed.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his vote of confidence, but I can tell him that I am going to get on with the job. I believe that that is the right thing to do. I think it is very, very sad that when the public need to hear clarity from their officials and from politicians, the Opposition parties are trying to muddy the waters about events, or non-events, of a year ago. That is what they are doing today.
Island Deal for Isle of Wight
I thank my hon. Friend, who is an excellent champion for the Isle of Wight. I know there is ongoing discussion between the Isle of Wight and the Department for Levelling Up about the unique circumstances of the Island, including the discussions about the possibility of a county deal.
I thank the Prime Minister for his response. Will the Government accept the findings of the independent study that they themselves commissioned this summer into a long-term fair funding settlement for the Island, the final calculations of which are due imminently? In doing so, will he help me to right a wrong that has now been ongoing for the Island—for my constituents—for some six decades?
I thank my hon. Friend very much. He will understand that it is not easy to break down the costs that apply to the service delivery on the Island, but I know the Department is carefully considering the details of the study he mentions, and I am sure the relevant Minister will keep him updated.
In view of the harm caused to political stability in Northern Ireland and to our economy by the Northern Ireland protocol, noting the lack of progress in removing the Irish Sea border, and recognising that Unionist consent for the protocol is not forthcoming, what urgent steps do the Prime Minister and his Government intend to take to honour his commitment to restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the UK internal market and to safeguard the political institutions in Northern Ireland?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. He and I have discussed this extensively, and he knows that we share a view that the protocol is not working in the way that it needs to in order to guarantee the Belfast-Good Friday agreement. I do not believe things need to be that way. I think it could be worked differently. We want our EU friends and partners to understand that and we will continue to work with them to get them to see things in the way that people on both sides of the Irish sea see them. In the meantime, we do not remove the possibility of invoking article 16 to protect trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this, and I thank the Hindu community for their amazing contribution to this country. I was delighted to visit the Neasden temple last month to hear about all they have done during the pandemic. I wish everybody in that community and all those celebrating all the very best.
No, because we make all those points regularly to the Chinese. Indeed, I did to President Xi when I talked to him recently. As I have said before, we do not support sporting boycotts, but there are certainly no plans for Ministers to attend the winter Olympics.
Health Education England is working extensively in Lincolnshire to improve the recruitment and retention of dentists. I understand that it agrees with her about the uneven distribution of dental schools throughout the country, and I am sure that as it considers its next steps, it will have heard her appeal.
Yes, I can. I can tell the hon. Lady that I was in contact with representatives of the local authorities, of the Army, of Northern Powergrid and others to see what more we could do to assist them in restoring power. I sympathise very much with the families who lost power for an unconscionably long period, and the House will have heard the explanation of the various electricity companies about why that is so. We must learn the lessons from Storms Arwen and Barra and ensure nothing like that happens again.
Among the heroes of the vaccine roll-out are pharmacists up and down the country, as my hon. Friend rightly says. We have 1,500 community pharmacies vaccinating people near where they live. I know that the NHS is considering the need to support more pop-up clinics where there is a need. I am happy to arrange a meeting with him and the vaccines Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup), to discuss this further.
I thank my hon. Friend. It is absolutely true that, through our careers strategy, we have so far invested £2 million to support career-related learning in primary schools. As Members of the House will know, we get the most extraordinary questions from primary school children and they are often very ambitious for their futures.
Yes, it does. That is why it is absolutely vital that we should get to the bottom of whatever may or may not have taken place on 18 December last year, but we need to focus on what is happening this year. I urge the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and everybody else to get their booster jab and to look after themselves.
At the moment, indecent exposure or flashing is illegal offline but not online. I welcome the Prime Minister’s support for that to change when he spoke to the Liaison Committee in November. Will he support outlawing cyber-flashing and other forms of sexual image abuse online when the forthcoming Online Safety Bill comes to the House?
The Prime Minister has already been asked about the winter Olympics, but having listened to his answer, I have to say that, sadly, it was not strong enough. I support the request that the UK Government now act against the dictatorial brutal Chinese regime that is persecuting everybody from Christians to Tibetans and terrorising the Uyghurs. Will they follow the suit of the Americans, the Australians and even the Lithuanians and please—I beg of him—give a lead to human rights and make a diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympic games?
It is clear from what I said earlier on that the Government have no hesitation in raising these issues with China, as I did with President Xi the last time I talked to him. There will be effectively a diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympics in Beijing. No Ministers are expected to attend, and no officials, but what I can tell the House is that I do not think that sporting boycotts are sensible, and that remains the policy of the Government.
There are media reports of a Cabinet meeting and press conference this afternoon to initiate covid winter plan B without reference to this House. Covid passes will not increase uptake of the vaccine but will create a segregated society. Is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister aware that very few will be convinced by this diversionary tactic?
This country is angry, and understandably so. Last Christmas, while we were in lockdown, millions of people were unable to be with their families; thousands of people waved through their care home windows at the loved ones wishing them a merry Christmas from the side of the road; people died without that last touch from their daughters, their sons, their wives; working in intensive care, I wept behind my mask as three children talking to their dying mother on an iPad begged her to wake up; and countless children are now growing up without parents—while parties were held at No. 10. This is disgraceful. This is an insult to everyone who followed the rules. It is an insult to everyone who was not allowed to say their final goodbye. This happened on the Prime Minister’s watch, so my question is very simple: how does the Prime Minister sleep at night?
I want first of all to repeat what I said earlier on about what happened a year ago, or what may not have happened. I share and understand the hon. Member’s grief and her feelings. I thank her for her service in the NHS. I know how much this country has been through and I know how difficult it has been. If you ask me how I sleep at night, the answer is that of course I take full responsibility and personal responsibility for everything that this Government have done, but I must say to you, Mr Speaker, and to the House that the way forward for this country now is to focus on the position we are in and, above all, to get our vaccinations as fast as we possibly can. We are in a much better position this year than we were last year, and that is thanks to the vaccination roll-out. I urge every Member of this House to join that campaign and that great British vaccination effort.