The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has joined other MPs in calling for the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to step down over the partygate scandal.
Mr Johnson faced a grilling in the House of Commons on Wednesday after an official inquiry found “senior leadership" in Boris Johnson’s Government must “bear responsibility” for the culture which led to the coronavirus lockdown rules being broken.
The Metropolitan Police has now issued 126 fines for rule breaches in No 10 and Whitehall, with the Prime Minister receiving a single fixed-penalty notice for his birthday party.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Boris Johnson said staff had been working “extremely long hours” and “doing their best” to help the country in the pandemic.
“I appreciate this is no mitigation but it’s important to set out.”
He added: “I’m trying to set out the context, not to mitigate or to absolve myself in any way.
“The exemption under which they were present in Downing Street includes those circumstances where officials and advisers were leaving the Government and it was appropriate to recognise and to thank them for the work they had done.
“I briefly attended such gatherings to thank them for their service, which I believe is one of the essential duties of leadership and particularly important when people need to feel that their contributions have been appreciated and to keep morale as high as possible.”
As he was heckled, he said that some of the gatherings went on much longer than he had realised.
“I had no knowledge of the subsequent proceedings as I simply wasn’t there,” he said.
In a statement, the SDLP leader and Foyle MP Colum Eastwood called on Boris Johnson to stand down.
“All across these islands, ordinary, decent people were thrust into the most extraordinary circumstances over the last two years and faced with every day choices to bend or break the severe restrictions placed on them, the vast majority stuck by the rules,” he said.
"They stuck by the rules when it meant missing a loved one’s funeral. They stuck by the rules when it meant giving up precious time with friends and family that they would never see again. The very least they could expect is that the Prime Minister would stick by those rules too.”
Mr Eastwood said the report showed Mr Johnson broke the rules and created a culture of breaking the rules.
He also accused the Prime Minister of telling lies to the House of Commons by denying any parties had taken place.
“There is no expectation that Johnson will resign. He has no shame, no sense of public duty and takes no responsibility for anything he does,” he said.
"To show any amount of contrition, much less to act on it, would be breaking the habit of a lifetime. So, he must be removed from office. Each Tory MP who refuses to take the necessary action to remove Johnson is lending their support to the corruption of government and public service.”
Addressing the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, the Alliance MP Stephen Farry accused him of trying to "rationalise” his actions by saying staff had been working long hours battling Covid.
"So what does he say to the thousands of doctors, nurses, careworkers, emergency services, cleaners, security staff and indeed civil servants up and down the country, who didn’t have alcohol fuelled work events, parties or leaving dos?”
Mr Johnson replied: “I simply say to them what I’ve said since the pandemic began, which is I thank them from the bottom of my heart.”