Boris Johnson has said he was “very, very surprised” to receive a fine for attending a lockdown-breaking gathering in Downing Street.
The prime minister, talking to Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts, was questioned on issues from partygate and Northern Ireland to nappies and his favourite book to read to his children.
Asked by a teacher why he did not lose his job for breaking lockdown rules, Mr Johnson said: “I apologise very much for what happened.
“I think if people look at the event in question it felt to me like a work event, I was there for a very short period of time in the cabinet office, at my desk, and I was very, very surprised and taken aback to get a fixed penalty notice.”
After the release last Wednesday of the Sue Gray report, which revealed raucous lockdown-breaking parties in 2020 and 2021, Mr Johnson told parliament he took “full responsibility for everything that took place under my watch” and said the government were “humbled” and had “learned a lesson”.
Speaking to Mumsnet, the online forum for parents, Mr Johnson described the birthday party for which he was fined as a “miserable event” and said he did not eat any of the cake on offer.
“If you’re talking satirically about that miserable event, whose picture appeared on the front pages, then no cake was consumed by me I can tell you, I can tell you that much,” he said.
The first question to the prime minister was: “Why should we believe anything you say when it has been proven you’re a habitual liar?”
He seemed taken aback and said he agreed with neither the “conclusion nor the premise”.
“People throw all sorts of accusations at me about all sorts of things, ever since I drove around with a sign on a bus,” he said, referring to the Vote Leave campaign bus that claimed Britain sent the EU £350m a week before the Brexit referendum.
“And they have all sorts of reasons for saying that. But I think you’ve just got to look at the record of what I deliver.”
On Northern Ireland, Mr Johnson admitted the protocol, which governs post-Brexit trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, “is certainly not functioning well”.
He insisted a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland “isn’t going to happen” and said: “All we’re trying to do is to get rid of some pretty pointless and bureaucratic checks.”
Last month, ministers announced plans to introduce legislation to change Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade arrangements, though the European Commission’s vice president said the plan was “not acceptable” and Brussels vowed to respond with all measures at its disposal.
‘I’m very fast at changing nappies’
Moving away from politics, Mr Johnson spoke about having two young children with his wife, Carrie Johnson.
“I’ve changed a lot of nappies recently, I’m very fast I can tell you,” he revealed.
And he admitted: “Carrie, obviously, you know, does more than I do. I’m not going to conceal that fact from you. She does far, far more than I do.
“But I think if you really sat her down and interrogated her if she would admit that I do quite a lot too.”
The prime minister appeared stumped when asked what his favourite young child’s book was, pausing before he said liked books by Dr Seuss – which he said he used to pronounce incorrectly.
Tory MPs fight back
His Mumsnet interview was released as Tory MPs launched a fightback after a growing number of their colleagues publicly called for Mr Johnson to resign and more submitted letters of no confidence in his leadership.
In all 43 Tory MPs have publicly questioned Mr Johnson’s future as prime minister and 28 have said he should go immediately.
Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, downplayed any threat to Mr Johnson’s premiership as he said there will not be a leadership vote next week, as former leader William Hague claimed.
“I think the Westminster bubble, village, whips this stuff up and I’m not saying it’s not serious and significant but we dealt with all those issues, the prime minister has dealt with all those issues,” he told Sky News.
Huw Merriman, a Tory member of the influential Commons liaison committee, told Sky News that although Mr Johnson had done something wrong he should not resign or be voted out because “everything stops, everyone changes, policies get held up” when that happens.