British Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised for attending a "bring your own booze" gathering in the garden of Number 10 during England's first lockdown, as he battled to save his leadership.

The Prime Minister acknowledged the public "rage" over the incident but insisted he thought it could have been technically within the rules.

Mr Johnson told MPs that he attended the 20 May, 2020 gathering for around 25 minutes to "thank groups of staff".

"I believed implicitly that this was a work event," he said.

Opposition MPs have called for Mr Johnson to resign and some in his own Conservative Party have said he should quit if he is found to have broken strict laws his government brought in to prevent the spread of the virus.

"I want to apologise. I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months," Mr Johnson said.

"I know the anguish they have been through - unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love."

Mr Johnson said: "Number 10 is a big department with a garden as an extension of the office which has been in constant use because of the role of fresh air in stopping the virus.

"When I went into that garden just after six on May 20, 2020, to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working, I believed implicitly that this was a work event."

Mr Johnson said: "With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them.

"I should have recognised that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there are millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who have suffered terribly, people who were forbidden for meeting loved ones at all inside or outside, and to them and to this House I offer my heartfelt apologies.

"All I ask is that Sue Gray be allowed to complete her inquiry into that day and several others so that the full facts can be established."

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Labour leader Keir Starmer asked Mr Johnson if he is now "going to do the decent thing and resign".

Mr Starmer said: "There we have it. After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road. His defence ... that he didn't realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it's actually offensive to the British public.

"He's finally been forced to admit what everyone knew, that when the whole country was locked down he was hosting boozy parties in Downing Street. Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?"

Boris Johnson said: "I appreciate the point that he's making about the event that I attended. I want to repeat that I thought it was a work event and I regret very much that we did not do things differently that evening.

"I take responsibility and I apologise. But as for his political point, I don't think that he should pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry. He will have a further opportunity, I hope, to question me as soon as possible."

Mr Starmer asked: "Why does the Prime Minister still think that the rules don't apply to him?

"When the Prime Minister's former health secretary broke the rules, he resigned and the Prime Minister said he was right to do so.

"When the Prime Minister's spokesperson laughed about the rules being broken, she resigned and the Prime Minister accepted that resignation.

"Why does the Prime Minister still think that the rules don't apply to him?"

Boris Johnson replied: "That's not what I've said and I understand the point that he makes, as I've said I regret the way things happened on the evening in question and I apologise, but if I may say to him, I do think it would be better if he waited until the full conclusion of the inquiry, until the full facts are brought before this House and he will have an opportunity to put his points again."

The Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: "The British public suffered unimaginable loneliness, hurt and grief. But they diligently followed the rules because it was the right thing to do.

"Boris Johnson attended a party and now he is treating them like fools by suggesting he doesn't know what a party is."

Survival in the balance

Conservative MP Roger Gale told RTE's Drivetime that he does not expect the British Prime Minster to survive his latest crisis.

"The apology was welcome certainly and up to a point I felt it was heartfelt and genuine," Mr Gale said.

"However, I suspect it was too little and too late. The problem is that the Prime Minister, at the Dispatch Box today, indicated that he had spent 20 or 25 minutes at what he thought, was a work event in the Downing Street garden.

"That work event was preceded by an email to about 100 people, saying 'bring your own bottle.' I don’t know of any precedent for a bring your own bottle work event in Downing Street."

He said that the mood amongst Conservative MPs is "pretty bleak" but he is unsure if a challenge to Mr Johnson's leadership is imminent.

"Publicly very few people are saying anything at all but privately I think there is possibly more anger than there was before," Mr Gale said.

"What if anything emerges from the 1922 Committee, I don’t know. I don’t want a leadership election at the moment but I think there ought to be one.

"It’s not all bad from his point of view. He has made a fair fist of some things but unfortunately, he’s made a complete cock-up or of other things and I fear that the latter is now overtaking the former," Mr Gale said, adding that he felt it would be better if Mr Johnson resigned.

"Mr Johnson has indicated that he doesn’t intend to go voluntarily so it will now be up to the 1922 Committee and the members of the Conservative Party to decide whether they want a leadership election or not.

"I can’t tell you whether they do because I genuinely don’t know whether I’m the only voice crying in this wilderness or whether there are others".

The Prime Minister and his partner Carrie mingled with about 40 staff in the garden of Downing Street after his Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds sent an invitation by email using the pronoun "we", ITV News reported.

Mr Johnson's spokesman had repeatedly refused to comment on the details of the report.

Newspapers, including those which are usually very sympathetic to Mr Johnson, warned that unless he resolved the issue, his position could become untenable.

Since the details of the gathering emerged, Mr Johnson had simply said he could not comment until a senior government official, Sue Gray, concludes an internal investigation.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie (File pic)

The revelation about the Downing Street gathering follows other allegations of rule-breaking by Mr Johnson and his officials and a series of unrelated mis-steps and scandals.

Ms Gray is already looking into other possibly illegal gatherings after a video emerged showing his staff laughing and joking about a different party held in Downing Street during a 2020 Christmas lockdown.

In December, the Guardian newspaper published a photograph of Mr Johnson and more than a dozen other people drinking wine in the Downing Street garden which it said was also taken in May 2020 during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Mr Johnson has previously told parliament that all Covid-19 guidance had been followed, no rules had been broken and that there had been no party in Downing Street.

Labour MP for St Helens North, Conor McGinn, says that today could be a very long day for Mr Johnson and that things could move quickly in the afternoon.

A snap poll on Tuesday showed 66% thought Mr Johnson should resign, up 12% from a poll taken in December after the reports of Christmas parties.

Last month, the Conservatives lost a parliamentary seat they had held for almost 200 years while the party's comfortable lead in opinion polls over Labour has also evaporated.