Like many of you, I am outraged about the way the Prime Minister has tried to justify attending parties in Number 10 Downing Street during lockdowns over the last two years of this Covid crisis.
So many people in Bristol West have spoken with me or written to me over the last two years about the suffering they, their relatives and friends have endured because of the crisis and the rules adopted to limit the impact of Covid. People made incredible sacrifices which they will be affected by forever.
Some of the people of Bristol West had relatives seriously ill and in hospital and were unable to visit them – because they were following the rules. Others stayed away from elderly relatives – because they were following the rules. There were weddings cancelled, funerals on Zoom, hugs of comfort not given, goodbyes done via iPads – because they were following the rules.
People lost livelihoods, income and jobs. Children and young people went through terrible lost education, isolation and mental health problems. All because of following the rules.
Following the rules was essential for public health, but it was very hard. Everyone did this because we had to take drastic action to halt the spread of the virus. In May 2020 in that first lockdown we had no vaccines, mass testing was not available and there were few treatments. Almost everyone in the country was taking the approach that we are all in this together, no matter how tough, and that we stick to the rules for the greater good.
It’s impossible to believe the Prime Minister didn’t understand the rules in May 2020. They were simple. And they were being announced and repeated every day from Downing Street at the daily press conference.
We in the Labour party have been pushing the government hard on this for weeks. Just yesterday on Tuesday 11th Labour put an Urgent Question to the Prime Minister about his attendance at this event but he couldn’t even do the decent thing and come to the Chamber to answer, instead sending a junior minister with no answers.
Today, at Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour leader Keir Starmer continued the attack and called on the Prime Minister to do the decent thing and resign. Keir reminded the Prime Minister that the public think he is lying. And that he can’t be trusted.
Today we hear from the Prime Minister that he regrets misunderstanding the rules and that in retrospect regrets his decision to attend an event with a group of thirty people in the Downing Street garden. But that’s not a proper apology and nor is it being accountable for his actions. He says he thought of it as a work event – well, I know that across Bristol West and the country there were people working incredibly hard at this time, but they didn’t meet up to drink together as a work event. It was clearly a party and it broke the rules. Possibly putting people at risk.
If he won’t do the decent thing and resign, his own party MPs should do the decent thing and get rid of him as leader. Whether they do or they don’t, it was clear from the lack of support in the Chamber and on the media that he is running out of supporters, either in his own party or his Cabinet of Ministers. From the current opinion polling, he doesn’t have the support of the country.
If he stays, the country will ultimately decide whether or not they trust this Prime Minister and his Party. Meanwhile, my colleagues and I will continue to expose him, his colleagues and the consequences of their actions for what they are.