Boris Johnson’s full apology: sorry, not sorry, nothing to do with me 

Boris Johnson came to the House of Commons today [Wednesday] armed with nothing better than a non-apology apology, a promise to get to the bottom of any mistakes that were made, and an insistence that if any of these events actually happened a year ago they were nothing to do with him. 

Keir Starmer was almost regretful, as if he had hoped that the prime minister would put up more of a fight: “That’s so desperate, and even his own side can see it.”

The prime minister tried to take the question of the Downing Street Christmas party head on, before it was asked, and to absorb public anger by saying he shared it. He sounded like a disappointed parent, saying he was “furious” when he saw the video of his staff “seeming to make light of lockdown rules”.

But the effect was immediately spoiled by an insincere apology for the “offence” that the video “has caused”, and “for the impression that it gives”. In plain English, he was saddened, as a mere observer, that offence had been caused – as fine an example as one will find in British politics of what Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, once called the “third person passive once removed”. And after all, he was sorry only for the “impression” the video gave, he said, implying that the impression was not accurate.

Keir Starmer questions Boris Johnson’s moral authority to lead

He had no idea what an accurate impression would be, of course, so he said he had asked Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, to establish the facts, apparently having failed to establish them himself since the Christmas party was first reported by the Daily Mirror more than a week ago. “I have been assured repeatedly that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken,” he said. In other words, I was only following orders given to me by my subordinates.

Finally he said that if anything bad had happened, despite his knowing nothing about it – that is, “if”, and there is probably a Latin phrase for the exculpatory conditional – heads would roll. But not his, obviously.

Then he put his head down and tried to get through the rest of the session of Prime Minister’s Questions by alternately sounding sad and defiant. He sounded mournful and sympathetic when Starmer raised the case of Trisha Greenhalgh, the professor of primary care, whose mother died alone last Christmas because the family kept to the rules and didn’t visit.

But in the next sentence he said it was a “great mistake” of Starmer’s to “play politics” with the issue. “I don’t think the public do want to see confidence in these measures undermined,” he said. Starmer seemed so surprised at being accused of what he was accusing Johnson of that he almost lost his thread.

Boris Johnson agrees to hand over information about No 10 Christmas parties to police

Starmer made his case, but failed to connect, because the prime minister and his officials had already so comprehensively made the case against themselves. The Labour leader managed to mention that he had been head of the Crown Prosecution Service, and so could say that Dominic Raab had been talking “total nonsense” when he said that the police don’t normally investigate crimes from a year ago. But as everyone, including the deputy prime minister, already knows it is nonsense, this seemed a feeble condemnation.

Starmer secured a commitment from the prime minister to hand over everything to the Metropolitan Police if they asked for it, but otherwise was best advised to ask bland questions and to allow Johnson to condemn himself.

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Johnson obliged, accusing Starmer again of muddying the waters and playing politics and switching in his answer to Starmer’s sixth and last question to saying that “the party opposite wants to decriminalise drugs”. He then repeated the line about muddying waters and playing politics in answer to Ian Blackford of the Scottish National Party, who he said was playing politics with “events or non-events from a year ago”.

It was an unedifying performance by a prime minister in trouble, whose staff had patently failed to supply him with the lines he needed – which rather suggests that there is no defence available. He got through it, partly because expectations are always too high of the leader of the opposition in such a situation – Starmer’s own MPs must have imagined that they really had trapped the prime minister this time, only for him to fail to put up his hands and resign on the spot.

And so Johnson scuttled out of the chamber as fast as he could the moment the session was over, with the question asked in the video of her mock press conference by Allegra Stratton, his former spokesperson, hanging over him. “What’s the answer?”

One thought on “Boris Johnson’s full apology: sorry, not sorry, nothing to do with me 

  1. He will never resign. He will have to be forcibly ejected. Starmer just needs to inject more humour and sit back on it. Laugh at him . Let him hang himself. Narcissists thrive on anger. Ignore the bait.


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