With permission, I will make a statement, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to Sue Gray for her report today, and I want to thank her for the work that she has done. I also thank the Metropolitan police for completing its investigation.
I want to begin today by renewing my apology to the House and to the whole country for the short lunchtime gathering on 19 June 2020 in the Cabinet Room, during which I stood at my place at the Cabinet table and for which I received a fixed penalty notice. I also want to say, above all, that I take full responsibility for everything that took place on my watch. Sue Gray’s report has emphasised that it is up to the political leadership in No. 10 to take ultimate responsibility, and, of course, I do. But since these investigations have now come to an end, this is my first opportunity to set out some of the context, and to explain both my understanding of what happened and what I have previously said to the House.
It is important to set out that over a period of about 600 days, gatherings on a total of eight dates have been found to be in breach of the regulations in a building that is 5,300 metres square across five floors, excluding the flats—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, I do think this is important, because it is the first chance I have had to set out the context. Hundreds of staff are entitled to work there, and the Cabinet Office, which has thousands of officials, is now the biggest that it has been at any point in its 100-year history. That is, in itself, one of the reasons why the Government are now looking for change and reform.
Those staff working in Downing Street were permitted to continue attending their office for the purpose of work, and the exemption under the regulations applied to their work because of the nature of their jobs, reporting directly to the Prime Minister. These people were working extremely long hours, doing their best to give this country the ability to fight the pandemic during—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, I appreciate that this is no mitigation, but it is important to set out the context.
Order. I appeal to the House: I expect the statement to be heard, and I want everybody to hear it. I want the same respect to be shown to the Leader of the Opposition afterwards. Please: this is a very important statement. The country wants to hear it as well.
Mr Speaker, I am trying to set out the context, not to mitigate or to absolve myself in any way.
The exemption under which those staff were present in Downing Street includes circumstances where officials and advisers were leaving the Government, and it was appropriate to recognise them and to thank them for the work that they have done. [Interruption.] Let me come to that, Mr Speaker. I briefly attended such gatherings to thank them for their service—which I believe is one of the essential duties of leadership, and is particularly important when people need to feel that their contributions have been appreciated—and to keep morale as high as possible. [Interruption.] I am trying to explain the reasons why I was there, Mr Speaker.
It is clear from what Sue Gray has had to say that some of these gatherings then went on far longer than was necessary. They were clearly in breach of the rules, and they fell foul of the rules. I have to tell the House, because the House will need to know this—again, this is not to mitigate or to extenuate—that I had no knowledge of subsequent proceedings, because I simply was not there, and I have been as surprised and disappointed as anyone else in this House as the revelations have unfolded. Frankly, I have been appalled by some of the behaviour, particularly in the treatment of the security and the cleaning staff. I would like to apologise to those members of staff, and I expect anyone who behaved in that way to apologise to them as well.
I am happy to set on the record now that when I came to this House and said in all sincerity that the rules and guidance had been followed at all times, it was what I believed to be true. It was certainly the case when I was present at gatherings to wish staff farewell—the House will note that my attendance at these moments, brief as it was, has not been found to be outside the rules—but clearly this was not the case for some of those gatherings after I had left, and at other gatherings when I was not even in the building. So I would like to correct the record—to take this opportunity, not in any sense to absolve myself of responsibility, which I take and have always taken, but simply to explain why I spoke as I did in this House.
In response to her interim report, Sue Gray acknowledges that very significant changes have already been enacted. She writes:
“I am pleased progress is being made in addressing the issues I raised.”
“Since my update there have been changes to the organisation and management of Downing Street and the Cabinet Office with the aim of creating clearer lines of leadership and accountability and now these need the chance and time to bed in.”
No. 10 now has its own permanent secretary, charged with applying the highest standards of governance. There are now easier ways for staff to voice any worries, and Sue Gray welcomes the fact that
“steps have since been taken to introduce more easily accessible means by which to raise concerns electronically, in person or online, including directly with the Permanent Secretary”.
The entire senior management has changed. There is a new chief of staff, an elected Member of this House who commands the status of a Cabinet Minister. There is a new director of communications, a new principal private secretary and a number of other key appointments in my office. I am confident, with the changes and new structures that are now in place, that we are humbled by the experience and we have learned our lesson.
I want to conclude by saying that I am humbled, and I have learned a lesson. Whatever the failings—[Interruption.] We will come to that. Whatever the failings of No. 10 and the Cabinet Office throughout this very difficult period—[Interruption.] And my own, for which I take full responsibility. I continue to believe that the civil servants and advisers in question—hundreds of them, thousands of them, some of whom are the very people who have received fines—are good, hard-working people, motivated by the highest calling to do the very best for our country. I will always be proud of what they achieved, including procuring essential life-saving personal protective equipment, creating the biggest testing programme in Europe and helping to enable the development and distribution of the vaccine that got this country through the worst pandemic of a century.
Now we must get our country through the aftershocks of covid with every ounce of ingenuity, compassion and hard work. I hope that today, as well as learning the lessons from Sue Gray’s report, which I am glad I commissioned—I am grateful to her—we will be able to move on and focus on the priorities of the British people: standing firm against Russian aggression; easing the hardship caused by the rising costs that people are facing; and fulfilling our pledges to generate a high-wage, high-skill, high-employment economy that will unite and level up across the whole of our United Kingdom. That is my mission, that is our mission, that is the mission of the whole Government, and we will work day and night to deliver it. I commend this statement to the House.
The door of No. 10 Downing Street is one of the great symbols of our democracy. Those who live behind it exercise great power, but they do so knowing that their stay is temporary. Long after they have gone, that door and the democracy it represents will remain firm and unyielding. But Britain’s constitution is fragile. It relies on Members of this House and the custodians of No. 10 behaving responsibly, honestly and in the interests of the British people. When our leaders fall short of those standards, this House has to act.
For months, Conservative Members have asked the country to wait—first for the police investigation, which concluded that this Prime Minister is the first in our country’s history to have broken the law in office, and then for the Sue Gray report. They need wait no longer. That report lays bare the rot that, under this Prime Minister, has spread in No. 10, and it provides definitive proof of how those within the building treated the sacrifices of the British people with utter contempt. When the dust settles and the anger subsides, this report will stand as a monument to the hubris and arrogance of a Government who believed it was one rule for them, and another rule for everyone else.
The details are stark. Five months ago, the Prime Minister told this House that all guidance was completely followed in No. 10, yet we now know he attended events on 17 December. At least one of those attending has received a fine for it, deeming it illegal. We know that on 18 December, an event was held in which staff “drank excessively”, which others in the building described as a “party”, and that cleaners were left to mop up the red wine the next day. On 20 May, as a covid press conference was taking place, one of the Prime Minister’s senior officials was told, “Be mindful; cameras are leaving. Don’t walk about waving bottles.”
It is now impossible to defend the Prime Minister’s words to this House. This is about trust. During that 20 May press conference, the British public were told that normal life as we know it was a long way off, but that was not the case in No. 10. Even now, after 126 fines, they think it is everyone else’s fault but theirs. They expect others to take the blame while they cling on. They pretend that the Prime Minister has somehow been exonerated, as if the fact that he only broke the law once is worthy of praise. The truth is that they set the bar for his conduct lower than a snake’s belly, and now they expect the rest of us to congratulate him as he stumbles over it.
No. 10 symbolises the principles of public life in this country: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. But who could read this report and honestly believe that the Prime Minister has upheld those standards? The reason the British public have had to endure this farce was his refusal to admit the truth or do the decent thing when he was found to have broken the law. This report was necessary because of what Sue Gray describes as
“failures of leadership and judgment”,
for which senior political leadership “must bear responsibility”. It is that failure of leadership that has now left his Government paralysed in the middle of a cost of living crisis. The Prime Minister has turned the focus of his Government to saving his own skin. It is utterly shameful. It is precisely because he cannot lead that it falls to others to do so. I have been clear what leadership looks like. [Interruption.] I have not broken any rules, and any attempt—[Interruption.]
Order. Can I just calm it down? Quite rightly, I wanted to hear the Prime Minister; the same goes for the Leader of the Opposition. Those who do not wish to hear, please go and have a cup of tea or something.
I have been clear what leadership looks like. I have not broken any rules, and any attempt to compare a perfectly legal takeaway while working to this catalogue of criminality looks even more ridiculous today, but if the police decide otherwise, I will do the decent thing and step down. The public need to know that not all politicians are the same—that not all politicians put themselves above their country—and that honesty, integrity and accountability matter.
Conservative Members now also need to show leadership. This Prime Minister is steering the country in the wrong direction. Conservative Members can hide in the back seat, eyes covered, praying for a miracle, or they can act to stop this out-of-touch, out-of-control Prime Minister driving Britain towards disaster. We waited for the Sue Gray report. The country cannot wait any longer. The values symbolised by the door of No. 10 must be restored. Conservative Members must finally do their bit. They must tell the current inhabitant, their leader, that this has gone on too long. The game is up. You cannot be a lawmaker and a lawbreaker, and it is time to pack his bags. Only then can the Government function again. Only then can the rot be carved out. Only then can we restore the dignity of that great office and the democracy that it represents.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about what went on in No. 10 Downing Street and the events behind that black door, and about the number of events. All I will say to him is that he, throughout the pandemic, was not leading many thousands of people in the fight against coronavirus. He was sniping from the sidelines and veering from one position to the next, and today he has done it again. Week after week, he could have come to this House and talked about the economy, about Ukraine, about the cost of living—but no, Mr Speaker: time after time, he chose to focus on this issue. He could have shown some common sense, and recognised that when people are working very hard together, day in day out, it can be difficult to draw the boundary between work and socialising. And yet, after months of his frankly sanctimonious obsession, the great gaseous zeppelin of his pomposity has been permanently and irretrievably punctured by the revelation that—he did not mention this— he is himself under investigation by the police.
I am not going to mince my words. I have got to say this. Sir Beer Korma is currently failing to hold himself to the same high standards that he demanded of me. It is true. He called for me to resign when the investigation began. Why is he in his place? Why—[Interruption.]
Order. Mr Holden, for the second time, I ask you please to help me to help you, because I am sure you want to hear the rest of this.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman should at least be consistent, and hold himself to the same standards. He is still there, and so is the deputy Leader of the Opposition.
I apologised when the revelations emerged, and I continue to apologise. I repeat that I am humbled by what has happened, and we have instituted profound changes throughout No. 10, but in view of the mess in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has found himself, it would now be sensible for him, too, to apologise, so that we can all collectively move on. That, I think, is what the people of this country want to see above all. They want to see leadership from this House of Commons, and leadership from both parties, in dealing with their priorities. That is why we are focused on getting through the aftershocks of covid, that is why I am proud of what we did to roll out the fastest vaccine campaign in Europe, and that is why I am proud that we now have the lowest unemployment in this country for 50 years. That is what the people of this country want. I appreciate that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has his points to make, but I think that, overwhelmingly, the will of this country is for us now to say thank you to Sue Gray and for us collectively to move on.
My right hon. Friend well knows that the rules apply to him as much as to all of us, and the rules of this House make clear that anyone who comes here and deliberately lies and misleads the House should leave their position, resign or apologise. My right hon. Friend has been asked many times about specific incidents and events that Sue Gray has outlined. Has he on any occasion come to the House in response to specific questions about specific events, and deliberately lied to us?
No, Mr Speaker, for the reason I have given: that at the time when I spoke to this House, I believed that what I was doing was attending work events, and, with the exception of the event in the Cabinet Room, that is a view that has been vindicated by the investigation.
I call the leader of the Scottish National party, Ian Blackford.
As I speak, the public are poring over the sordid detail of what went on—out of the public eye, behind the high gates and walls of the Prime Minister’s residence. The report is damning. It concludes that many gatherings and many individuals did not adhere to covid guidance; that
“events…were attended by leaders in government”
“should not have been allowed to happen”;
“junior civil servants believed that their involvement…was permitted given the attendance of senior leaders”;
that there was an “unacceptable”
“lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff”;
and, crucially, that:
“The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
That leadership came from the top, and the Prime Minister—in the words of the report—must bear responsibility for the culture. A fish rots from the head.
The Prime Minister’s Dispatch Box denial of a party taking place on 13 November is now proven to be untrue. He was there on 13 November, photographed, raising a toast, surrounded by gin, wine, and other revellers. The charge of misleading Parliament is a resignation matter; will the Prime Minister now finally resign?
This Prime Minister has adopted a systematic, concerted and sinister pattern of evasion. Truthfulness, honesty and transparency do not enter his vocabulary. That is just not part of his way of being, and it speaks for the type of man that he is. Credibility, truth and morality all matter, and the Prime Minister has been found lacking, time and again.
The Prime Minister can shake his head, but that is the reality. Ethics have to be part of our public life, and ethical behaviour has to be at the core of the demeanour and the response of any Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister brings shame on the office, and has displayed contempt, not only to the Members of this House but to every single person who followed the rules —those who stayed away from family, those who missed funerals, those who lost someone they loved. So I hope that when Tory Members retire to the 1922 Committee this evening, they will bear in mind the now infamous Government advertisement featuring a desperately ill covid patient. It says:
“Look her in the eyes and tell her you never bend the rules.”
If those Tory Members do not submit a letter—if they do not remove this Prime Minister—how will they ever look their constituents in the eye again?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman should look closely at Sue Gray’s report, and I repeat my thanks to her. I stress that the nature and length of my involvement in these events is very clear from what she says, and I take full responsibility for what happened. That is why we have taken the steps that we have to reform and improve the way in which No. 10 works. We are humbled by what has happened, and we have changed it.
Since my election to the House, I have been running a campaign called “Listening to Wellingborough and Rushden”. Members may recall that on one occasion members of that group asked me to present a letter at Prime Minister’s Question Time calling for a previous Prime Minister to resign. What they are telling me today is that their concerns are the terrible war in Ukraine, illegal immigrants crossing the channel, and the economy, and their message to the Prime Minister is, “Get on with the job”. Does the Prime Minister agree with the “Listening to Wellingborough and Rushden” campaign?
I agree with them profoundly and passionately, and that is exactly what I am going to do.
The Prime Minister said that on 13 November 2020, he attended the “Abba party” briefly. His defence was a job interview. Can he confirm that he was only in his flat, and that he met Henry Newman to discuss a job, and can he tell us what the other special advisers were doing? Were they part of the job interview as well?
That evening was extensively investigated, to the best of my knowledge, and I do not believe I can improve on what Sue Gray has had to say.
This is a damning report about the absence of leadership, focus and discipline in No. 10, the one place where we expect to find those attributes in abundance. I have made my position very clear to the Prime Minister: he does not have my support. A question I humbly put to my colleagues is: are you willing, day in day out, to defend this behaviour publicly? Can we continue to govern without distraction, given the erosion of the trust of the British people? And can we win a general election on this trajectory?
The question I place to the Prime Minister now—[Interruption.] I am being heckled by my own people. If we cannot work out what we are going to do, the broad church of the Conservative party will lose the next general election. My question to the Prime Minister is very clear: on the question of leadership, can he think of any other Prime Minister who would have allowed such a culture of indiscipline to take place on their watch? And if they did, would they not have resigned?
To answer the question that my right hon. Friend put to all of us on these Benches, I think the answer is overwhelmingly and emphatically yes, we are going to go on and win the next general election and we are going to get on with the job.
The Prime Minister says he is sorry, but he is only sorry he got caught. He did not care then, as he partied during lockdown, when people could not see their dying loved ones. He did not care last year when he insisted that no rules had been broken. And he does not care now, when families across our country are struggling to heat their homes, fill their cars, and put food on the table, with a cost of living crisis that has only deepened while the Prime Minister has been scrambling to save his own skin. Can the Prime Minister look the British people in the eye and name one person, just one person, he cares about more than himself?
I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that there are people in No. 10 Downing Street, including me, who cared passionately about making sure that we had the PPE we needed, that we had the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, and that we protected this country from covid. That is what people were doing, and I may say that the abuse that has been directed at civil servants and officials is wholly unwarranted.
When I think of civil servants and advisers during that period, I think of the brilliant civil servants who helped move mountains to create the shielding programme within a matter of days and the brilliant civil servants and advisers who got 90% of homeless people off the streets within days. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these achievements and others should mean that nothing in this report is a stain upon the character of the thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of civil servants, whether in No. 10, other Departments or across the country who helped to steer this country through the pandemic? Secondly—difficult though this is for many to say—with a war in Europe, an economic crisis and the challenges this country faces, is it not true that it is now time to turn a page, and for this country, our politics and this House to move forwards?
I agree with my right hon. Friend absolutely and passionately. We can study the report and we can draw the conclusions that we want, but the best thing now for our country is to move forwards together, and that is what we are going to do.
We all understand, and the Prime Minister understands, that not being truthful on the Floor of this House requires a resignation. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) asked the Prime Minister a point-blank question on the Floor of this House when he was at the Dispatch Box. She asked him if he had been to a party on 13 November in 10 Downing Street. He said he had not and that no party had happened. There are four pictures of it featured in the Sue Gray report. Will the Prime Minister account now, on the Floor of the House, for his answer to that very specific question?
Yes of course, and I tried to do it in what I said earlier. The answer is that it is part of my job to say thank you to people who work in Government, and that is what I was doing. I believed it was a work event and, indeed, there has been no fine issued to me as a result of my attendance at that event, because that is what I was doing.
I commend Sue Gray for the report and I understand why people are angry. Having looked at the pictures of the birthday party in the Cabinet Office, I think the Opposition are going to be quite hard pressed to explain why they have such moral outrage about that but not about the late-night beers that happened in Durham. However, one of the things I was very troubled by was the language used towards the custodian. Will the Prime Minister join me now—I am sure the whole House would agree—in expressing the level of respect and gratitude we have to every single cleaner and worker, including all the people in the Tea Room, who work in this place?
I agree very much with what my hon. Friend has just said. As I said in my opening statement, any rudeness towards a member of staff is absolutely inexcusable and I want whoever was responsible to apologise.
I feel as if I have completely let down those who showered me with so much love. Why wasn’t I by the bedside of my lovely grandmother during her final few days? Why did I let her die alone in that hospital? Why did I not attend the funeral of my uncle? It was because of worries about Government restrictions on numbers. And why did I not go to comfort my brother- in-law’s father as he was dying in a Slough care home? With all of this context, it is utterly hypocritical for those very individuals who were preaching to us ad nauseam about patriotism, the flag and the Queen to be having late-night parties, including two on the night before the Queen had to sit all alone during her husband’s funeral when the country was in a state of national mourning. Absolutely shameless. Given that the Prime Minister is not going to do the right and honourable thing, does he agree that it is not the support and sympathy of the British people that are keeping him in power, the majority of whom want him to resign, but the support and sympathy of those—
Order. I am sorry, but this is meant to be a question. Also we do not normally bring the monarchy into proceedings. I am sure that the Prime Minister will have got the gist. I understand the emotions behind this, but questions have to be shorter.
I am very sorry for the hon. Gentleman’s loss. He has a perfect right to speak with the passion that he does. All I can say is that I take full responsibility for what happened, and we have made extensive changes.
I believe both leaders have a lot to answer for with regard to this issue. The British Army teaches us, or certainly believes at its very core, that we serve to lead and we lead by example. Given the extent of rule breaking in No. 10, does my right hon. Friend believe that what he has said to the House since about there being no rule breaking passes the test of reasonableness?
My hon. Friend is asking exactly the right question and I understand why he asks it. But I have tried to give my answer to him and to the House, which is that I believed that I was attending work events—those are the ones of which I had knowledge—and with the exception of what took place in the Cabinet room in June 2020, that view has been sustained by the investigation.
Neither I nor my Edinburgh South West constituents would wish to live in a state where the Government of the day can influence the police in the exercise of their duty to investigate without fear or favour, so we are puzzled as to why the Prime Minister did not receive questionnaires in respect of three gatherings for which other people in No. 10 received questionnaires. We are also puzzled as to why the ABBA party in the Prime Minister’s flat has never been investigated by either Sue Gray or the Metropolitan police. What can be done by way of an independent investigation to assure me and my constituents that the Metropolitan police have not been nobbled?
That would greatly surprise me. I think the hon. and learned Lady should look more closely at Sue Gray’s report, where she will find the answer she seeks.
I understand the outrage of people in Lichfield and Burntwood, and indeed the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi), who have lost loved ones, but I also understand, having been an employer, that attending a leaving event is considered to be a work event. My right hon. Friend clearly had guidance that turned out to be wrong, so can he now explain how the appointment of a new permanent secretary at No. 10 will make a difference?
The structure of No. 10 has changed. There is more direct command and control of the whole building, which was a little unclear, and there is a new permanent secretary with direct responsibility for the whole office—hundreds and hundreds of people—as opposed to that function nominally being addressed by the principal private secretary. As Sue Gray says, the lines of command were not clear.
After months of shuffling around, prevarication and buck passing, this report makes it absolutely clear that, when the British public were taking the restrictions seriously, the Prime Minister was taking the British public for fools. That is why the Prime Minister and his Government cannot be taken seriously. Is it not time he said goodbye so that the rest of us can say good riddance?
I really do not think the Government can be blamed for the delay that the hon. Member complains of. It took a long time for the Met to do its work, which was exhaustive, and I do not believe that it sustains the conclusion he has drawn—not at all.
When I asked the Prime Minister about Sue Gray’s interim findings on 31 January, he asked me to wait for the inquiry report—he asked many hon. Members that day to do the same. Subsequently, he has asked the media to wait for the findings of the inquiry report, and he knows that many Conservative colleagues have told their constituents that they are waiting for the inquiry report. So I was very surprised to read an intimation in The Times that he may have asked Sue Gray not to publish the report at all. Is there any truth to that suggestion?
What Sue Gray has published is entirely for Sue Gray. It is a wholly independent report.
The last time I asked the Prime Minister a question on this subject, I said that the problem with him—and I have got on with him over the years—is that he is a serial offender. Even serial offenders, if they confess to doing wrong and repent for what they have done, can be forgiven because they are mending their ways. I am sorry, but his performance today shows no real remorse. He is trying to pass the buck to other people. Like many I see on the Conservative Benches, I believe he should now resign.
I have apologised and, as I said, I am deeply contrite about what happened. I take responsibility. We have already made a huge amount of change in No. 10, and it is my judgment that the best thing for the country is now to move on from this issue and to learn the lessons.
Given the cavalier way in which these rules were interpreted in No. 10, does my right hon. Friend agree that rules of such intrusiveness and rigidity must never again be imposed on the British people as a whole?
We were dealing with an unprecedented pandemic, and we did not have any immediate tools to control it, short of a vaccine, without asking people to restrict their behaviour. I am sure there are plenty of lessons we can learn for the future about how to do it better, and that will be a matter for the inquiry.
Although the Prime Minister is still, unwittingly, a great asset for Scottish independence, the question everywhere is this: how to goodness is he still the Prime Minister of this current United Kingdom?
The answer to that question is contained in the continued support of the people of the United Kingdom for our Union. Despite everything the SNP is doing to try to overturn the democratic verdict of 2014, I do not believe it will succeed.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his further apology and explanation today, which is important to many of my constituents. Does he note that paragraph 4 on page 36 of the Sue Gray report says
“there have been changes to the organisation and management of Downing Street and the Cabinet Office with the aim of creating clearer lines of leadership and accountability”?
Does he agree with Sue Gray that these changes need to bed in, that the focus of our Government must be laser-like in tackling the cost of living crisis that has come about as a result of the covid pandemic and Ukraine, and that, over and above everything else, this is the concern of my constituents?
The hon. Gentleman asks me to answer, and I will. I completely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), which is why we will get on with the job.
What a load of baloney. Excuse after excuse after excuse, and it simply does not wash with the British public, who are sick and tired of being taken for fools. The truth is that the Prime Minister encouraged the gatherings, he attended the gatherings, he poured the drinks at the gatherings and he even raised a toast at the gatherings, so he knew perfectly well that these gatherings had taken place. The most despicable thing of all is that Sue Gray says she saw
“multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff.”
They knew what the rules meant, even if nobody else did. Does the Prime Minister show no contrition, no sense of shame, that Downing Street, under him, has been a cesspit full of arrogant, entitled narcissists?
As I have already said to the House, it is absolutely disgraceful, in any circumstances, to be rude to the people who help us—the staff and custodians. It is intolerable, and I will make sure that those who are guilty of it apologise or are otherwise disciplined.
Now we have had this report and the Prime Minister has repeatedly apologised, does he not agree that we should be focusing on the real issues that matter to the British public—[Interruption.]
Order. Both of you need to have a cup of tea outside, because I cannot hear the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) with you both shouting at each other.
A separate debate was trying to be created, but we do not need to worry anymore.
Does the Prime Minister not agree that we should focus on the real issues that matter to the British people: the cost of living and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? Given what happened in Durham, the only people left to apologise in this Chamber are on the Labour Front Bench.
Yes. People in glass houses should not throw stones.
To call this a damning report for the Prime Minister is an understatement. It states:
“The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
For 168 days, the Prime Minister has used Sue Gray as a human shield against this duty. In this farce of a parliamentary system, it is now all down to Tory MPs—and there are not many of them left in the Chamber—to grow a backbone and oust this moral vacuum of a Prime Minister. Will he spare them the trouble and resign?
I thank Sue Gray for her report and, of course, the Metropolitan police for concluding their inquiry. Does the Prime Minister agree that investigations should be carried out without outside interference or statements towards the police or others? Will he now urge the Leader of the Opposition to respect this, too, with regards to Durham constabulary?
Yes, that sounds like very sound advice.
My mother, my father-in-law and my mother-in-law are just three of the nearly 180,000 people who have died from covid-19 in Britain. Laws were broken by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and others, and these were not victimless crimes; these were not silly rules and meaningless red tape—they were designed to protect lives. The doctors and nurses who cared for my relatives at North Manchester General Hospital were not clocking off for “wine time Friday”. So for the first time in his life, will the Prime Minister do the right thing, and resign?
No, but I want to assure the hon. Gentleman that I understand the reasons why he feels as he does. I also want to say that everybody in No. 10 took the pandemic with the utmost seriousness. I grieve for his loss. We were doing our best to contain a very, very difficult situation.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that I voted against much of the covid legislation over the past couple of years, because I felt that a lot of it was pettifogging, ridiculous and unnecessary. I think this entire House should apologise to the British people for allowing a lot of this nonsense legislation to be in place. Whereas I take great comfort in and have respect for the fact that the courts tend to come to the same conclusion for the same offences, it would seem that the legislation we passed allowed an individual police force to come to different conclusions and certainly allowed different police forces to do so. From the photos I have seen, I would much rather have been at the curry and beer than the birthday party the Prime Minister had in the Cabinet room.
I thank my hon. Friend very much. All I can say is that those matters are for the relevant forces.
I do not believe that the Prime Minister has any credibility left, because my constituents tell me that they do not believe what he says. So I want to ask the Prime Minister about what I think is the bare minimum in this situation: cleaning staff and security staff in No. 10 were treated with a lack of respect, so has he personally apologised to them?
This is the first I have seen of the detailed criticisms of civil servants for that abuse. I have said that I think it is intolerable and I will make sure that staff, custodians and cleaners who were treated disrespectfully get a proper apology—
I have apologised to them today already from this Dispatch Box.
Rarely in my 21 years in this House have I heard such utter drivel as we have been presented with today. I have tried to find words to capture what the Prime Minister said: disingenuous, delusional, slippery, self-serving—I know that I cannot say “dishonest” in this place. There has been no attempt at remorse; it is all somebody else’s fault. Surely if he was half the man he thinks he is, he would summon that self-respect and just go.
I direct the hon. Gentleman to what I have already said.
I want to quote the following to the Prime Minister and all those on his side—we have just heard one of them—who suggest that the covid rules did not matter. It is from palliative care doctor, Dr Rachel Clarke:
“To NHS staff, it was always abundantly clear that the way you survive a pandemic is together.”
She goes on to say that, in 2020,
“Collective compliance…was really all our patients had”
to protect them, and “basic, selfless, public decency” mattered. Rules were
“Hated yet obeyed, because we care about each other... And that glass of wine in the prime minister’s hand? It’s been thrown into the faces of us all.”
How does he reply to that?
I wish things could have been handled better and I wish we had got things right in No. 10 in the way we did not. I apologise again for things that we got wrong, but we have already changed the way we work and I really think it is time that the country moved on.
The Prime Minister has previously stated that partygate investigations would be complied with fully, but today there are reports that senior staff simply did not answer the questionnaires and, as a result, have avoided being fined. Can he therefore confirm whether all senior staff at No. 10, including himself, met their obligations and replied to the Metropolitan police in full?
As the hon. Lady knows, those are matters for the Met.
The Prime Minister said:
“I briefly attended such gatherings to thank them for their service, which I believe is one of the essential duties of leadership”.
He would not know leadership if it hit him in the face—that is where my constituents stand, and I will tell him why. Doctors gave their lives and their families were not allowed to attend their funerals. I was on the phone when the trust that I work with had to make leadership decisions to separate people and not let them see their dying relatives; I was on the phone to somebody while a person died—they were begging me to let them see him. That is what leadership is; those were difficult decisions they had to make. Nurses could not go home and had to book into hotels so that they did not spread infections. If the Prime Minister had an ounce of leadership, he would resign. So why doesn’t he?
I refer the hon. Lady to what I have already said.
The Prime Minister’s credibility is like a tyre with a slow puncture. He reinflates it occasionally, but is it not the truth that his party needs a new front wheel?
I think Opposition Members really need to ask a new question.
I am absolutely appalled by the behaviour of some Members in this Chamber today. They are refusing to accept responsibility. They are jeering and cheering, and saying, “Let’s move on.” May I tell the Prime Minister that there is a young man in Blackburn who cannot move on? He had a “wart” on his head, but rather than get an appointment with a doctor he was asked to send in a picture. Three months later, he was told that he had stage 4 cancer. So the impact is widespread and the damage is long-lasting, and this young man cannot even get the treatment he needs because he is told it will not be funded. Does the Prime Minister feel no shame at totally trashing rules that he made and expected other people to live with? He wants to move on and other people are left with the consequences. Surely the Prime Minister must resign.
No, we want to get on with addressing the covid backlogs, which is what we are doing.
I sometimes wonder whether the Prime Minister has a neck of pure brass. Does he understand and recognise the words “honesty”, “integrity” and “accountability”? From my position, it does not seem as though he does. Many Members have spoken of personal things and personal tragedies they have gone through. The country needs a new leader. Yes, we need to move on, but we should not need to lead on with him. Will the Prime Minister now resign?
Mr Speaker, I think I am just going to repeat my previous answer.
The Prime Minister’s leadership—his behaviour—drives the culture not only in our politics, but in our country. It also gives licence to others to behave in a similar manner. So if he is genuine in his apology, and—[Interruption.] Will he, first, ensure that the ministerial and Members’ codes have the Nolan principles incorporated into them and put them into statute? Secondly, will he condemn those Oldham Conservative candidates who delivered toxic racist and misogynistic leaflets during the recent local elections? His chairman has details of that.
I would be very happy to look at those details if the hon. Lady will send them to me.
“Serve to lead” is the motto of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and everybody serving in our armed forces knows that if the commanding officer of a unit presided over the kind of shambles we have seen in Downing Street, they would be discharged of their duties. Why is it different for the Prime Minister?
Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the vaccine programme, the securing of PPE, or the fact that we came out of covid faster than any other European country?
A comment from the Sue Gray report that sickened me was:
“I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff.”
The Prime Minister has made a public apology at the Dispatch Box, but when will he personally apologise to those hard-working cleaning staff, who took a risk every day to keep everyone else safe?
To repeat what I said both earlier and to the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), when I have identified the custodians, cleaners and staff in question, I will of course talk to them myself.
One address, 20 months, 204 questionnaires, 345 documents and 510 photos—including the ones on page 38 onwards of the Prime Minister raising a toast when he should be toast—and as a result 126 fines, mostly given to 83 junior staffers, all while the police were routinely fining people greater amounts than the £50 the Prime Minister was fined, and for far lesser offences. Does this not all point to the conclusion that not everyone is as equal under the law as each other these days?
I think there is a criticism of the Metropolitan police contained in what the hon. Lady just said, which I do not agree with.
The problem with the report is that the dates that are outlined so clearly reopen many of our wounds. I am going to ask the Prime Minister the question that the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) asked earlier but the Prime Minister did not answer: when he met with Sue Gray recently, did he ask her not to publish the report?
No. What I can tell the hon. Lady is that the report is wholly independent and the judgments contained in it are a matter for Sue Gray. I am grateful to her for what she has done, and her interim report was extremely useful to the Government in making the changes that we have made.
In the years to come, when the Prime Minister reflects on his time as PM and in government, what does he think will be his proudest moment? Will it be breaking his own lockdown laws and being fined? Will it be misleading Parliament? Or will it be lying to the Queen and presiding over such a toxic environment that, according to Sue Gray’s report, staff in his office had a lively party the night before her husband’s funeral?
I will look back, many years hence, on, from this period, the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, which was not half bad; being the first country anywhere in the world to put an approved vaccine in anybody’s arm; and coming out of covid faster than any other European country. Those are already very considerable achievements, to say nothing of delivering Brexit, which the hon. Lady would not have done and neither would the Labour party.
The Prime Minister was asked whether he thought any other Prime Minister would have allowed such rule breaking on their watch. I was a senior civil servant for two Prime Ministers—Gordon Brown and the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May)—and I can tell the Prime Minister that when I was a senior civil servant no such behaviour would have occurred. What is clear to me in the Sue Gray report is the number of comments by civil servants who knew that they were doing something wrong. They said:
“we seem to have got away with”
it; this is
“somewhat of a comms risk”;
people should not be
“walking around waving bottles of wine”
in front of cameras—and it goes on. They knew they were doing something wrong; did the Prime Minister, at any stage and at any of the events he attended, think he was doing something wrong?
No, and I have tried to be clear with the House about that. By the way, the hon. Lady talks about serving previous Prime Ministers; I thank her for her service, but I want to assure her that I have never thrown a stapler at anybody, or an ashtray.
The Prime Minister’s utterances on partygate at that Dispatch Box have proven to be the fantasy that we all knew they were. Allegra Stratton resigned for merely joking about a party; she has more integrity in her little finger than the Prime Minister could ever hope to possess. This charlatan of a Prime Minister is without shame, without credibility and without any hope of ever winning another election. Will he sacrifice anyone or any institution—including his own party—to try to keep his ever-weakening grip on power?
I know why the SNP wants to remove me from office: because we are going to get on and win the next election. That is the reality.
Maybe the Prime Minister could help me, again. If no rules were broken, what on earth did Martin Reynolds mean when he said, “we…got away with” it? He was referring, of course, to the bring-your-own-booze party on 20 May. What did he mean by “we…got away with” it?
I cannot give an exegesis of what is in the report. The hon. Lady can read the report for herself.
When the Prime Minister says he is sorry, we know he is sorry for getting caught. One of my constituents, Louise, was in hospital in November 2020. A very elderly woman lay in the bed next to hers, crying and begging for her family. She asked Louise to phone and ask them why they had not come to see her. The last thing she said to Louise was:
“I won’t be here in the morning.”
She died with a student nurse holding her hand; that haunts Louise to this day. Does the Prime Minister agree with Louise when she says that he is a liar and must resign?
I have every sympathy for Louise and all those who have suffered, but no, for the reasons I have given, I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman has just said.
The Prime Minister has presided over a culture of law breaking, entitlement and privilege in Downing Street. He cannot credibly plead ignorance on that point. In his statement, he sought to rationalise it by saying that the staff in Downing Street were working long, pressurised hours battling covid. What does he say to the thousands of doctors, nurses, care workers, emergency services workers, cleaners, security staff and, indeed, civil servants up and down the country who did not have alcohol-fuelled work events, parties or leaving dos?
I simply say to them what I have said since the pandemic began, which is that I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
When previously I asked the Prime Minister to release the publicly funded photographs of these incidents, he declined because of the police investigation. Is there any conceivable reason why the full publicly funded catalogue of these incidents should not now be released so that the public can see and judge for themselves?
What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that, to the best of my knowledge, all the evidence has been seen by Sue Gray and by the Metropolitan police. There may be issues about what else can be released more generally, but I believe that the hon. Gentleman and the public have a representative sample of the images.
In a five-page statement, the Prime Minister indicated five times that he takes responsibility, but in fact he has not done so once. During the pandemic, all MPs asked our constituents to adhere to the guidelines to protect themselves, their families, their friends, their colleagues and the wider community. With the benefit of hindsight, does the Prime Minister believe he set a good example that he can look back on with pride?
Where I fell short and where we fell short, I apologise. I thank all colleagues who asked their constituents to follow the guidelines. Yes, the Government can be very proud of a lot of what we delivered during covid.
I have waited for the report and, having looked through it, it is clear to me that the Prime Minister did break the rules on one occasion, when he was surprised by a birthday greeting between meetings in the Cabinet Room. That was a clear rule breach, but one for which he has apologised, and I accept his apology. It is also clear from the report that there were other occasions on which the Prime Minister was not present and did not break the rules, but others did. Such events occurred repeatedly during the lockdown. What has the Prime Minister learned from the report? How will the changes he has put in place in No. 10 ensure that such behaviours, and the attitudes that allowed them to occur, do not persist?
I thank my hon. Friend very much. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) asked substantially the same question. The lines of command and responsibility in No. 10 are now much sharper, thanks to the installation of a new second permanent secretary with direct responsibility for everybody in the building.
The Prime Minister must see that people partying until the small hours on a regular basis at Downing Street paints an awful picture to everybody else who was following the rules. But I want to ask him specifically about the gathering in his flat on 13 November 2020, which, contrary to what he said today, has not been fully investigated by Sue Gray. Can he confirm for the record that everyone who was there that evening was working and that there was no alcohol, no music or anything else that people might reasonably conclude constituted a party?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I think I have answered that question already. I have nothing to add to what Sue Gray says in her report and what the Metropolitan police found in their investigation.
I know the Prime Minister would love these incidents to be swept under the carpet and us to forget about them. But the “Panorama” documentary and the Sue Gray report show the utterly inappropriate and shameless behaviour that took place at No.10 during lockdowns. The Prime Minister has said that he wanted to appreciate his officials at No.10. The way he did so was by having parties that took place every Friday at 4pm with an open bar and excessive drinking. The Sue Gray report states:
“The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time.”
To take responsibility is to resign, which the Prime Minister says he will not do, but what is he doing to appreciate his staff and officials at No. 10 now?
What we are already doing is sharpening up the management of No.10, making it easier for staff to complain and to voice their anxieties. We have to get on with the business of government; I know that the hon. Lady wants to persist with this subject, but I want those officials to focus on the priorities of the people.
It is rumoured that the Chancellor will shortly—finally—be announcing some further help for our constituents who are struggling with the cost of living crisis, but we know how things work in this Government with their enormous team of spin doctors. Have the Prime Minister’s Government deliberately held back the details of that desperately needed help in order to provide some cover for the damning impact of this report?
No, Mr Speaker.
I, like many in this country, have lost loved ones. My constituents have lost loved ones. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost loved ones. The longer that this goes on the more traumatising their experience is. I can tell the Prime Minister that sitting through this statement is very traumatising for many of us who have lost loved ones and our constituents. We cannot go on like this. Will the Prime Minister now do the decent thing—the honourable thing—accept responsibility and step down so that we can all move on and get on with our lives and ensure that people who have suffered so much are protected and served properly?
I thank the hon. Lady. Of course I appreciate the suffering of those on whose behalf she speaks, but I do believe that it is the duty of the Government to get on as fast as we can with sorting out the priorities of the people now.
I thank Sue Gray for the publication of her report. It is good to see the final article. We all recognise that there are many lessons to be learned from the handling of the pandemic for all levels of government, as the report states. Can the Prime Minister, working alongside devolved Administrations, give an indication as to when he will be launching the public inquiry on covid-19 that he promised? The general public have questions to ask, and answers must be given. When will the general public have their say?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, Baroness Hallett—Heather Hallett—has been appointed to head the inquiry, and he can expect developments soon.
It is absolutely imperative that the British public are told the whole truth. Everyone hopes that there have been no redactions or changes to the report. Indeed, Downing Street said that its intention was to publish the report in full, in its entirety, unchanged. Did anyone in No.10 receive a copy of the report yesterday, and were any requests made for sections to be removed or altered? Were any changes made, following requests, to the section relating to the gathering in the No.10 flat on 13 November 2020?
I received the report—I had not seen it before— shortly after 10 o’clock this morning. On the hon. Gentleman’s second point about the events on 13 November, I have addressed those several times.
We now know that, while the Prime Minister was happy to let the bodies pile high outside Downing Street, he was also happy to let the bottles pile up high inside Downing Street. We also know that he has come to that Dispatch Box and denied point blank that events took place—events that we now know did take place—that turned Downing Street into the most notorious party flat in central London. The Prime Minister has diminished and demeaned his office. He speaks of leadership, but any leader should know when it is time to go. Why will the Prime Minister not go, so that the country can move on as it needs to, without him in office?
What the hon. Gentleman has just said of the civil servants—some of whom, I am sad to say, were fined—who worked night and day to minimise suffering and minimise casualties during covid is unworthy.
My constituent Ruby Fuller lived by the motto, “Live kindly, live loudly” in pursuit of social justice. Ruby died from cancer on 20 May 2020 as the “bring your own booze” party was happening in Downing Street. Her grandparents and her young friends had to say goodbye to Ruby by Zoom. What does the Prime Minister have to say to Ruby’s friends—young people in my constituency who are listening to him today blaming everybody but himself? When will he accept that every single day that he remains in Downing Street our politics is corroded further?
I repeat my condolences to those who suffered from covid, to those who could not get the treatment that they needed during the pandemic, and to the family of Ruby who could not see her when she was suffering from cancer. All I can say now is that we want to get on with our work, which is to clear the backlogs, particularly for cancer patients up and down the country.
For the bereaved families of covid, this report will unleash another cruel wave of loss, grief and anger. As a bare minimum, will the Prime Minister promise that the interim findings of the covid inquiry will be published before the next general election?
That is a matter for the chair.
To those MPs who have clearly gone for their lunch, may I advise them that the Prime Minister’s humble pie is off? Was the Prime Minister at the party on 18 December 2020—the so-called wine and cheese evening that lasted for five hours, where red wine was “spilled on one wall”, it was “crowded and noisy”, and a cleaner was forced to clean up afterwards. Was he at it, at any stage of the proceedings?
I think the hon. Gentleman will find the answer to that question in Sue Gray’s report.
The conclusion of the report states that Ms Gray found that
“some staff had witnessed and been subjected to behaviours at work”—
that were concerning, and that there were—
“…multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff.”
For me, that is the most damning and also the most telling part of the report. Why is it that people like the Prime Minister and the people who work at No.10 think that cleaners, security guards, nurses and teachers are beneath them and less important than them?
I condemn such behaviour. When I was running London transport, for instance, I instituted much tougher penalties for those who abused our staff. I support tougher penalties for those who abuse shopworkers. Those are the values that I stand for.
“Wine Time Friday”, karaoke, grown men drinking shots of apple sours—how can anyone on the Government Benches honestly describe these as work events? Misleading the House is a very serious issue, as the Prime Minister well knows, but taking the people of this country for fools is far worse. While he is busy trying to defend the indefensible, I would like to know how many of my former colleagues he thinks will be joining me on the Opposition Benches after today?
The hon. Gentleman will find the answers to his questions in the Sue Gray report. I really do not have anything more to add.
By the actions of this Prime Minister, standards of public life in the UK now lie face down in the gutter. The Prime Minister wants us all to move on, collectively. Well, let me assure this derailed Prime Minister, there is no collective in Scotland of which he is a part. As his authority lies festering in a steaming pile of incredulity, will he set out to the people of Scotland the productive and positive role he will play with the Scottish Government in allowing and enacting a referendum on independence, so that we can finally free ourselves of exactly the type of behaviour he typifies?
I will continue to work productively with the Government in Scotland, as we did throughout the pandemic, not least in delivering the fastest vaccine roll-out in Europe, the furlough programme and everything else that we did together, which shows that we are stronger together.
In response to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), the Prime Minister said that he had not had time to apologise to the cleaning and security staff. Is he telling this House that Sue Gray and no official apprised him of one of the eight conclusions of this report prior to his coming to the House today—or are those staff just not his priority?
No, since I saw the report this morning I have not had time to identify the custodians or cleaners in question, but as I told her hon. Friend, as soon as I can, I will apologise to them in person.
I am inordinately proud of the way my constituents and people up and down this country have dealt not just with the pandemic but with the economic crisis that they now face. None of that is reflected in the shameful behaviour we see set out in the report. Earlier—much earlier—I saw the Prime Minister look at his watch, and one of his colleagues suggested that perhaps we should want to turn the page on what has happened. Believe me, I think everyone in this place would like to turn the page and never have to revisit it, but the only way we can do that is if the Prime Minister accepts responsibility fully and moves on, so we can turn that page.
I am going to move on with the Government’s agenda, and that is exactly what we are going to do.
I appreciate that the Prime Minister struggles with the truth, but can he vouch to me and to this House that he will do everything he possibly can to stave off his Back Benchers and instead lead the campaign to protect his precious Union?
Increasingly, the strongest advocates of the Union and the United Kingdom are the Scottish nationalist party. By their incompetence, their overtaxing, their poor educational results—they cannot even make the trains run on time, or buy some ferries without totally screwing it up—they are terrific advocates of the United Kingdom. I thank them for what they are doing.
Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Secretary George Eustice, supported by the Prime Minister, Steve Barclay, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Sajid Javid, Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Jo Churchill, presented a Bill to make provision about the release and marketing of, and risk assessments relating to, precision-bred plants and animals, and the marketing of food and feed produced from such plants and animals; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 11) with explanatory notes (Bill 11-EN).
Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill (Programme) (No. 2)
That the Order of 26 January 2022 in the last Session of Parliament (Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:
(1) Paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order shall be omitted.
(2) Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
(3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.—(David T. C. Davies.)