'Nobody told me it was against the rules': PM denies lying to Parliament over No10 garden party

Boris Johnson gave a remarkable interview on so-called 'partygate', as ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt reports

Boris Johnson has insisted that "nobody told me" a party held in Downing Street in May 2020 at the height of a coronavirus lockdown was "against the rules", as he apologised for "misjudgements" made.

The prime minister has told MPs that he was only in the Downing Street garden for 25 minutes in May 2020 to thank assembled staff before resuming work in his office.

There are now at least 10 allegations of Covid-rule-breaking carried out by members of the Tory party during the pandemic, with the PM accused of allowing a culture of rule-breaching to go unchecked. Asked if he had lied to Parliament about the May 20 “bring your own booze” Downing Street party during a visit to a north London hospital on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: "Nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules, that the event in question was something that… we were going to do something that wasn’t a work event.

"And as I said in the House of Commons when I went out into that garden I thought that I was attending a work event."

Watch Boris Johnson's interview on Downing Street parties in full

But Mr Johnson has "categorically" denied lying to Parliament when telling MPs he believed he was attending a work event, when he was actually at an organised drinks party.

He repeatedly refused to rule out resigning as prime minister if an investigation into that party and several others finds he misled Parliament with his explanation.

The prime minister insisted as he apologised again for attending the party.

His former top adviser Dominic Cummings, however, says the PM is lying with his "work event" claims and said he would be prepared to "swear under oath" that he warned Mr Johnson the party would break the rules.

Asked several times whether he will resign if the investigation into Downing Street parties finds he misled Parliament, the PM said people should wait for the probe to conclude.

But disquiet on the Conservative backbenches is growing - one Tory MP has told ITV News that they believe more than 30 letters of no confidence may have been submitted in the PM.

There needs to be 54 in order to trigger a vote on his leadership, but many Tories say they're reserving judgement until the investigation is complete.

The PM confirmed he had been interviewed by civil servant Sue Gray, who is carrying out the investigation.

'One of the strangest interviews I've ever seen by a prime minister': ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston gives his analysis

He also repeated his apology to the Queen over a party held by his staff in Number 10 on the eve of Prince Philip's funeral on April 17, which she was forced to attend socially distanced from her family due to Covid rules.

He bowed his head during the question and could be heard breathing heavily behind his mask as he told reporters: "I deeply and bitterly regret that that happened.

"I can only renew my apologies both to Her Majesty and to the country for misjudgements that were made, and for which I take full responsibility."

Boris Johnson bows his head and breathes heavily as he is asked about saying sorry to the Queen

Today was his first public appearance after PMQs last Wednesday, with Mr Johnson reducing his social contacts since then due to a family member testing positive for Covid.

His return came as Chancellor Rishi Sunak refused to give the PM his unequivocal backing.

Mr Sunak said he believes the prime minister, but said the "ministerial code is clear" on what should happen if a minister is found to have misled Parliament.

The code says ministers who “knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”.

The PM also failed to receive backing from his deputy prime minister, who said Mr Johnson should resign if he is found to have lied to Parliament with his explanation for attending the party.

Dominic Raab also refused to say whether he believed the prime minister over Mr Cummings.

Asked who he believes, Mr Raab insisted the PM was "clear" with his explanation and pointed to Number 10's rebuttal of Mr Cummings - but when pressed by ITV News for a direct answer the minister said: "I'm not getting into that because I don't think that's my role."

Does Raab believe the prime minister or Dominic Cummings?

He earlier told ITV's Good Morning Britain that he believes in "upholding" Cabinet code of conduct which says any minister, PM included, should resign if they are found to mislead Cabinet.

He said: "The rules are set out very clearly in relation to this. You shouldn't mislead Parliament, you certainly shouldn't lie deliberately and mislead Parliament, without correcting it immediately if you become aware of facts that change.

Asked if that meant a PM should resign if they are shown to have misled Parliament, he said: "That is clearly the case under the code for ministers."

Number 10 said Mr Johnson would resign as prime minister if he misled Parliament with his explanation - but only if he "knowingly" did so.

Mr Johnson's spokesman said the PM "abides" by the ministerial code, which is "very clear" on what should happen if a minister is found to have knowingly lied to MPs in the Commons.

"The guidance is clear, the ministerial code is very clear on this point when it comes to knowingly misleading the House and the prime minister abides by that, and we fully support it."

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner reiterated her call for the PM to resign following his latest comments on the No 10 drinks party.

"Boris Johnson clearly knows it's the end of the road," she said.

"He's the prime minister, he set the rules, he didn't need anyone to tell him that the party he attended broke them. If he had any respect for the British public, he would do the decent thing and resign."

In the Commons last week, Mr Johnson admitted spending 25 minutes at the gathering saying he thought it was work event, but an email sent by his principle private secretary Martin Reynolds to 100 members of staff made clear it was "socially distanced drinks" to "make the most of the lovely weather.

But, in his latest dig at the man he once worked for, Mr Cummings said both he and another senior official had challenged Mr Reynolds as to whether it was within the rules.

He said he believed that Mr Reynolds then checked with Mr Johnson who had agreed the event should go ahead.

When he tried to raise the issue with the prime minister directly Mr Cummings said his objections were brushed aside.

Watch Boris Johnson's apology to Parliament in full:

“I said to the PM something like: ‘Martin’s invited the building to a drinks party, this is what I’m talking about, you’ve got to grip this madhouse’. The PM waved it aside,” Mr Cummings wrote in his blog.

He added: “The events of May 20 alone, never mind the string of other events, mean the PM lied to Parliament about parties.

“Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened.”