The speech made by Clive Efford, the Labour MP for Eltham, in the House of Commons on 21 April 2022.
Several hon. Members have referred to the collateral damage that the Prime Minister leaves in his wake, as he has done throughout his career. For example, the Paymaster General, who is on the Front Bench today, said on 9 December during a statement on the Christmas party at No. 10 Downing Street:
“The Prime Minister has been repeatedly assured since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no covid rules were broken.”—[Official Report, 9 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 561.]
We now know that there were several parties, not just one, and that the rules were broken, because fines have been issued, one of which the Prime Minister has received. Part of the collateral damage, therefore, is that the Paymaster General came here to make a statement, based on the same information that allegedly was given to the Prime Minister, and misled the House. I accept that the Paymaster General did so inadvertently, but what has he done about that? The record needs correcting. Surely he should be investigating how he came to be misinformed and to misinform the House.
This has happened on too many occasions for ignorance to be the defence. There is this idea that, throughout lockdown and all the occasions on which these parties took place and the rules were broken, none of the bright young things who had been invited ever thought that any one of those events might break covid rules. Is it conceivable that no one raised a single question about whether they might be breaking the rules? Some of those events were drinks events for people who were leaving. In our constituencies, people missed funerals and cancelled weddings and birthday parties. However, the people in No. 10 thought that it was okay to have leaving drinks. Where are they? What were they thinking? How out of touch with our constituents can they be to think that they can have a leaving drinks party and are more important than our constituents?
Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab)
My hon. Friend is making a good speech, and that is a good point. I want to make a point about the impact of breaking the law, and how it hurt people and continues to do so. My constituent told me:
“Boris Johnson broke the law partying with his colleagues while I watched my father die through a care home window. My father gave up on life because he could not have any proper connection with much-needed family during recovery from a stroke. I think he could still be alive today if I was able to break the law by having a close connection with him”,
but, they say, they were not in the privileged position of the Prime Minister.
What my hon. Friend read out speaks for itself. She has demonstrated, as have many others, through the cases they mentioned, that the problem starts at the top. The workers who organised the parties would not have done so if they thought that their bosses would be upset, would come down on them and say, “You are breaking the rules. Stop it.” We now know that on at least six occasions, the Prime Minister was present at these parties, so this problem comes right from the top.
The Prime Minister’s defence has been different on many occasions. He started by saying that no rules were broken. He then said that there was a party, but that he was not present—but then he was. Then he said, “I wasn’t warned that it wasn’t a work do.” I did not see anything about a work do in the rules, but perhaps I missed that. The person who writes the rules cannot misunderstand them so fundamentally.
Setting that aside, if the Prime Minister’s defence is, “I didn’t understand the rules; I needed them explained to me” and “I was misled at the outset about there having been a party, because people told me that there wasn’t one,” who misled him? What has happened to them? Are they still in their posts? Have they moved on? Have they signed non-disclosure agreements? Where are those people who misled the Prime Minister, which led him to him inadvertently misleading the House? We cannot have this both ways: either the Prime Minister knowingly came to this House and lied, or other people lied to him, which led to him misleading the House. Either way, we need to identify those people.
The worst crime of all, however, is failing to feel the pain that our constituents felt throughout lockdown. No one who felt the agony and understood the pain that people were going through, as in the example that my hon. Friend read out, could have attended the events that happened in No. 10 Downing Street and other places. The question for Tory MPs today is this: do you stand by the people who felt that pain and vote today for—
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
The hon. Gentleman knows that he must not use the word “you”.
This applies to you too, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will Tory MPs stand by the people who felt that pain throughout the past two years? They deserve answers. As others have pointed out, this is about fundamental trust in our politics. When Tory MPs vote today, they should think about the damage that they are doing to the trust in our political process, because the public deserve better. They should think about that before they vote. This matter should go before the Privileges Committee. They know that, so they should vote for that.