The speech made by Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, in the House of Commons on 31 January 2022.
I would like to thank Sue Gray for the diligence and professionalism with which she has carried out her work. It is no fault of hers that she has only been able to produce an update today, not the full report.
The Prime Minister repeatedly assured the House that the guidance was followed and the rules were followed. But we now know that 12 cases have reached the threshold of criminal investigation, which I remind the House means that there is evidence of serious and flagrant breaches of lockdown, including the party on 20 May 2020, which we know the Prime Minister attended, and the party on 13 November 2020 in the Prime Minister’s flat. There can be no doubt that the Prime Minister himself is now subject to criminal investigation.
The Prime Minister must keep his promise to publish Sue Gray’s report in full when it is available. But it is already clear that the report discloses the most damning conclusion possible. Over the last two years, the British public have been asked to make the most heart-wrenching sacrifices—a collective trauma endured by all, enjoyed by none. Funerals have been missed, dying relatives have been unvisited. Every family has been marred by what we have been through. And revelations about the Prime Minister’s behaviour have forced us all to rethink and relive those darkest moments. Many have been overcome by rage, by grief and even by guilt. Guilt that because they stuck to the law, they did not see their parents one last time. Guilt that because they did not bend the rules, their children went months without seeing friends. Guilt that because they did as they were asked, they did not go and visit lonely relatives.
But people should not feel guilty. They should feel pride in themselves and their country, because by abiding by those rules they have saved the lives of people they will probably never meet. They have shown the deep public spirit and the love and respect for others that has always characterised this nation at its best.
Our national story about covid is one of a people who stood up when they were tested, but that will be forever tainted by the behaviour of this Conservative Prime Minister. By routinely breaking the rules he set, the Prime Minister took us all for fools. He held people’s sacrifice in contempt. He showed himself unfit for office.
The Prime Minister’s desperate denials since he was exposed have only made matters worse. Rather than come clean, every step of the way, he has insulted the public’s intelligence. Now he has finally fallen back on his usual excuse: it is everybody’s fault but his. They go; he stays. Even now, he is hiding behind a police investigation into criminality in his home and his office.
The Prime Minister gleefully treats what should be a mark of shame as a welcome shield, but the British public are not fools. They never believed a word of it. They think that the Prime Minister should do the decent thing and resign. Of course, he will not, because he is a man without shame. Just as he has done throughout the life, he has damaged everyone and everything around him along the way. His colleagues have spent weeks defending the indefensible, touring the TV studios, parroting his absurd denials, degrading themselves and their offices, fraying the bond of trust between the Government—[Interruption.]
Order. The hon. Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher) is my neighbour. I expect better from my neighbours.
They have spent weeks fraying the bond of trust between the Government and the public, eroding our democracy and the rule of law.
Margaret Thatcher once said:
“The first duty of Government is to uphold the law. If it tries to bob and weave and duck around that duty when its inconvenient…then so will the governed”.
To govern this country is an honour, not a birthright. It is an act of service to the British people, not the keys to a court to parade to friends. It requires honesty, integrity and moral authority. I cannot tell hon. Members how many times people have said to me that this Prime Minister’s lack of integrity is somehow “priced in”—that his behaviour and character do not matter. I have never accepted that and I never will.
Whatever people’s politics, whatever party they vote for, honesty and decency matter. Our great democracy depends on them. Cherishing and nurturing British democracy is what it means to be patriotic. There are Conservative Members who know that, and they know that the Prime Minister is incapable of it. The question that they must now ask themselves is what they are going to do about it.
Conservative Members can heap their reputation, the reputation of their party, and the reputation of this country on the bonfire that is the Prime Minister’s leadership, or they can spare the country a Prime Minister totally unworthy of his responsibilities. It is their duty to do so. They know better than anyone how unsuitable he is for high office. Many of them knew in their hearts that we would inevitably come to this one day and they know that, as night follows day, continuing his leadership will mean further misconduct, cover-up and deceit. Only they can end this farce. The eyes of the country are upon them. They will be judged by the decisions they take now.