Sunak challenged over partygate by worker whose mother died during pandemic

Rishi Sunak was confronted over the partygate scandal, as a worker whose mother died during the pandemic asked the Prime Minister how he could be trusted.

Mr Sunak was forced to apologise for “what was going on in Downing Street” and for attending a lockdown-busting gathering for which he was fined.

The first question in a staff Q&A during Mr Sunak’s election campaign visit to Niftylift, a cherry picker manufacturer near Milton Keynes, came from Nick Fox.

The 35-year-old environment, health and safety officer told the Prime Minister he lost his mother in 2020, a month after Mr Sunak attended then-prime minister Boris Johnson’s birthday celebration in No 10.

“How can anyone trust you or the party after things like this?” Mr Fox asked.

Mr Sunak replied: “Well, I’m really sorry that you lost your mum and particularly in those circumstances, because it wasn’t easy for so many people during the pandemic, the impact it had on everyone’s life.

“And I can’t imagine what it must have been for you not to be able to be with her at that time. It’s really tough.

“And I’m sorry for what was going on in Downing Street. And for my part, I apologise that I showed up to a meeting earlier.”

The Prime Minister went on to highlight his work as then-chancellor implementing the furlough scheme during the Covid-19 crisis.

He said: “As you know, I was working on things to help you and your business and many other families like that.

General Election campaign 2024
Nick Fox, whose mother died during the pandemic, asked Rishi Sunak about partygate (David Lynch/PA)

“And in fact, it was probably in that same period of time that you got to know me as chancellor.

“Most of you didn’t know who I was before then, and I popped up on your TV screens, announced the furlough scheme … Hopefully, some of you here benefited from some of the support that we put in place.”

Mr Fox later said he was not convinced by Mr Sunak’s answer.

He told the PA news agency: “He talked about hard times and this kind of thing. They haven’t tightened their belts. They gave a load of contracts to their mates and this kind of thing.

“His apology isn’t accepted. I wasn’t looking for an apology either.”

He said he was “not really that surprised” when he found out about parties in Downing Street around the same time his mother, Christine Fox, died aged 66.

“I think we all knew things like that were going to happen. It was going to be one rule for us and another rule for them.

General Election campaign 2024
The first question for Rishi Sunak in the Buckinghamshire Q&A was about partygate (Aaron Chown/PA)

“It doesn’t really make it any easier. It’s still very frustrating.”

Mr Sunak and Mr Johnson were fined for attending the then-prime minister’s birthday gathering in Downing Street in June 2020.

Mr Sunak reportedly spent hours agonising over whether to resign as chancellor when he was issued with a fixed-penalty notice in April 2022, but ultimately decided against it.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “What everyone heard today was Rishi Sunak’s inability to explain why, while the whole country was making sacrifices during the pandemic, Downing Street thought they were entitled to enjoy illegal lockdown parties.

“After 14 years of Tory chaos it is time that the country turned a page.”

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokeswoman Sarah Olney said: “Rishi Sunak will go down in history as the partygate chancellor.

“People up and down the country won’t forget Sunak’s involvement in Boris Johnson’s lying and lawbreaking government.

“His weasel words will come as cold comfort to bereaved families who struggled during the pandemic.”