'PM only sorry because he got caught' Three key takeaways from Boris Johnson’s Downing Street party apology

After mounting pressure and irrefutable evidence, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has first admitted to attending a gathering in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 – during the UK’s first national Covid lockdown and at a time when group gatherings were banned.

Johnson started his weekly Prime Minister questions with a “sincere apology”, saying he knew the “anger” the people in himself and the government felt at the perception that the “rules are not being followed” by those who make them. But what did we really learn from his appearance at PMQs? Here are three key takeaways that will help reveal what is really going on behind the apology.

Johnson buys time

Numerous MPs have already asked the Prime Minister to resign because of this scandal. At PMQs, Labor Leader Keir Starmer said Johnson should “do the decent” and quit, noting that Matt Hancock resigned as Minister of Health after breaking the rules, as did his former adviser Allegra Stratton, on video showed up at which she joked about such a party.

Nonetheless, the prime minister will clearly try to overcome this. He has fended off many scandals in recent years (see: Barnard Castle Affair, Business support for former lovers Jennifer Arcuri, that Apartment renovation number 10, and so forth).

Johnson attempted to neutralize his critics with a statement before parliament. It was a carefully worded admission that admitted errors, but also had several important reservations about the nature of the May gathering – most notably Johnson’s belief that it was a “work incident.”

A difficult PMQ for Johnson. The Prime Minister then blocked all further avenues of discussion by persistently dismissing any further questions from the MPs on the outcome of the official request in lockdown meetings on Downing Street.

All of this gives Johnson more time. If the investigation report isn’t too damaging, it gives it scope to claim it was an honest mistake. It creates distance between him and the revelations the recent past. The storm could just pass by.

He’s sorry – that he got caught

The ongoing saga of the potentially illegal gatherings on Downing Street has taken many twists and turns. Johnson initially denied that the meetings took place at all. When evidence to the contrary emerged, he admitted that there might have been meetings but all instructions had been followed. When that line became untenable, Johnson proceeded to minimize his knowledge of the events.

Now, in the final round, Johnson had to admit that there were meetings and that he was there. He claimed he only attended about 25 minutes to thank staff for their efforts, but admitted that he “should have sent everyone back home”. Although some have claimed they believe that Sorry is realStarmer attacked it as a ruse evoked after “months of deception and deception”. Here, Starmer argued, is “the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of streets.”

Real or not, there is no doubt that this apology was only made because Johnson had no other choice. The evidence was too strong, and had Johnson not launched PMQs on the offensive, Starmer would have been in a position of significant strength. We’ll never know now what blows could have landed if Johnson hadn’t offered some kind of admission. That way he could add any excuses he wanted.

In the end, apology was a smart phrase. It seemed to reveal remorse, but it was less about breaking the law than about perception. Johnson admitted that “technically, it could have said it was under the guidelines,” but he should have considered that “there would be millions and millions of people who just wouldn’t see it that way.”

It did happen – but it wasn’t a party

Although Johnson has since admitted that there was a gathering and he was there, he still refuses to refer to it as a “party”. Of course, this also plays into his narrative, the fact that it was a simple mistake and could happen to anyone. He wants to convince people that it was an accident that is now being exaggerated by the media and rival politicians.

Admitting wrongdoing, whether accidental or not, is a critical change in the situation. It is rare for Johnson to give in at all on such matters. However, it is also important to refuse to recognize them as a party. This would be the final step in admitting that the law has been broken. Instead, Johnson suggested that the garden at number 10 be viewed as an “extension of the office” – one that is in constant use “because of the role of fresh air in containing the virus”.

Many citizens will find this argument an extension of gullibility, especially as they look back on their own lives in May 2020. But it’s a lifeline for Johnson, and we can be sure that he’ll hold on to that argument like glue. If only he could show the same commitment to his own COVID regulations.

Chris Stafford, PhD student, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham

This article was republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.

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