The speech made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 25 May 2022.
The door of No. 10 Downing Street is one of the great symbols of our democracy. Those who live behind it exercise great power, but they do so knowing that their stay is temporary. Long after they have gone, that door and the democracy it represents will remain firm and unyielding. But Britain’s constitution is fragile. It relies on Members of this House and the custodians of No. 10 behaving responsibly, honestly and in the interests of the British people. When our leaders fall short of those standards, this House has to act.
For months, Conservative Members have asked the country to wait—first for the police investigation, which concluded that this Prime Minister is the first in our country’s history to have broken the law in office, and then for the Sue Gray report. They need wait no longer. That report lays bare the rot that, under this Prime Minister, has spread in No. 10, and it provides definitive proof of how those within the building treated the sacrifices of the British people with utter contempt. When the dust settles and the anger subsides, this report will stand as a monument to the hubris and arrogance of a Government who believed it was one rule for them, and another rule for everyone else.
The details are stark. Five months ago, the Prime Minister told this House that all guidance was completely followed in No. 10, yet we now know he attended events on 17 December. At least one of those attending has received a fine for it, deeming it illegal. We know that on 18 December, an event was held in which staff “drank excessively”, which others in the building described as a “party”, and that cleaners were left to mop up the red wine the next day. On 20 May, as a covid press conference was taking place, one of the Prime Minister’s senior officials was told, “Be mindful; cameras are leaving. Don’t walk about waving bottles.”
It is now impossible to defend the Prime Minister’s words to this House. This is about trust. During that 20 May press conference, the British public were told that normal life as we know it was a long way off, but that was not the case in No. 10. Even now, after 126 fines, they think it is everyone else’s fault but theirs. They expect others to take the blame while they cling on. They pretend that the Prime Minister has somehow been exonerated, as if the fact that he only broke the law once is worthy of praise. The truth is that they set the bar for his conduct lower than a snake’s belly, and now they expect the rest of us to congratulate him as he stumbles over it.
No. 10 symbolises the principles of public life in this country: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. But who could read this report and honestly believe that the Prime Minister has upheld those standards? The reason the British public have had to endure this farce was his refusal to admit the truth or do the decent thing when he was found to have broken the law. This report was necessary because of what Sue Gray describes as
“failures of leadership and judgment”,
for which senior political leadership “must bear responsibility”. It is that failure of leadership that has now left his Government paralysed in the middle of a cost of living crisis. The Prime Minister has turned the focus of his Government to saving his own skin. It is utterly shameful. It is precisely because he cannot lead that it falls to others to do so. I have been clear what leadership looks like. [Interruption.] I have not broken any rules, and any attempt—[Interruption.]
Order. Can I just calm it down? Quite rightly, I wanted to hear the Prime Minister; the same goes for the Leader of the Opposition. Those who do not wish to hear, please go and have a cup of tea or something.
I have been clear what leadership looks like. I have not broken any rules, and any attempt to compare a perfectly legal takeaway while working to this catalogue of criminality looks even more ridiculous today, but if the police decide otherwise, I will do the decent thing and step down. The public need to know that not all politicians are the same—that not all politicians put themselves above their country—and that honesty, integrity and accountability matter.
Conservative Members now also need to show leadership. This Prime Minister is steering the country in the wrong direction. Conservative Members can hide in the back seat, eyes covered, praying for a miracle, or they can act to stop this out-of-touch, out-of-control Prime Minister driving Britain towards disaster. We waited for the Sue Gray report. The country cannot wait any longer. The values symbolised by the door of No. 10 must be restored. Conservative Members must finally do their bit. They must tell the current inhabitant, their leader, that this has gone on too long. The game is up. You cannot be a lawmaker and a lawbreaker, and it is time to pack his bags. Only then can the Government function again. Only then can the rot be carved out. Only then can we restore the dignity of that great office and the democracy that it represents.