Boris Johnson came to PMQs armed with an admission, an apology, and an excuse. It is far from clear it was enough.
The admission was that he did indeed attend a drinks event in the garden of Downing Street on 20 May 2020 – just hours after a cabinet minister held a press conference telling the public the ongoing lockdown rules meant meeting more than one person outside was illegal.
Previously, the PM has either dodged the question by hiding behind the investigation currently being carried out by senior civil servant Sue Gray, or denied any rules had been broken.
The apology was without caveat – he insisted it was “heartfelt”, acknowledged the “rage” felt by millions, and accepted responsibility for the mistakes that were made.
The excuse put forward by the prime minister was that he believed the gathering of staff, which he said he had attended for around 25 minutes, was a simple work event.
While acknowledging many people wouldn’t see it that way, he implied it may have been technically within the rules – and that MPs should now wait for Sue Gray’s conclusion on that question.
The three-pronged response was delivered with an uncharacteristic sense of contrition and without the bombast he normally reaches for in the chamber at moments of political jeopardy.
But the prime minister’s bid for survival was met with ridicule and outrage by the opposition.
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Sir Keir Starmer described the apology as a “pathetic spectacle”, and said the excuse was “so ridiculous that it is offensive to the British public”.
The Labour leader’s call for Mr Johnson to resign was echoed by his SNP counterpart and a succession of other MPs.
It was a bruising and humiliating session, but the reality is the PM’s future will not be determined by such calls.
The question of whether he rides this scandal out should be primarily one for Conservative MPs – they have the power to instigate a vote of no confidence if they believe the election-winner has become an electoral liability.
But the strategy adopted by Boris Johnson today also puts Sue Gray into a position of immense power.
His apology will only be enough if her findings fit with both his admission and excuse.