Boris Johnson's government adviser, Allegra Stratton has resigned following criticism over a video in which she is seen joking with other No 10 staff about a Christmas party held at Downing Street.
Boris Johnson told a coronavirus press briefing on Wednesday that Stratton had been an “outstanding spokeswoman … I am very sorry to lose her”. But he added: “I take responsibility for everything that happens in this government and I have throughout the pandemic.”
In a tearful statement, Ms Stratton said she said deeply regretted joking with other No 10 aides during a rehearsal for a later-dropped plan for filmed Downing Street press conferences.
"She said she would "regret the remarks for the rest of my days". And offered "profound apologies" to everyone.
“The British people have made immense sacrifices in the battle against Covid 19. I now fear that my comments in the leaked video of 20 December may have become a distraction against that fight,” she said.
“My remarks seemed to make light of the rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention."
Saying she remained proud of her work on Cop26, Stratton said: “I understand the anger and frustration that people feel. To all of you who lost loved ones, endured intolerable loneliness and struggled with your businesses – I am sorry and this afternoon I have offered my resignation to the prime minister.”
Boris Johnson also apologised for the video during PMQs on Wednesday.
He told MPs he was "furious" about the clip and was launching an investigation into whether rules had been broken last Christmas.
However, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the prime minister had "taken the public for fools" after a week when Downing Street refused to confirm what happened at the party.
The Labour leader also shared the story of a woman whose mum called her on the day the party happened "breathless and feverish".
She was hospitalised days later and died, without her daughter visiting as she abided by lockdown rules.
Sir Keir questioned whether Mr Johnson had "the moral authority" to lead and ask the public to stick to restrictions if his team would not.
But the PM accused his rival of "playing politics" with the issue and "undermining" the public health message over Covid.
The prime minister also faced a series of questions about the party during a press conference held later on in the day.
Mr Johnson praised Ms Stratton as a "fine colleague who achieved a great deal during her time in government" but added that he could make "no excuses for the frivolity" of his staff in the ITV video.
The Christmas party, which took place on 18 December 2020 when London was under Tier 3 restrictions was in contravention of the rules that meant all inside gatherings of two or more people were banned and work parties were prohibited.
It is reported that No 10 staff drank, ate food and played party games until after midnight.
Days later, Mr Johnson announced scrapped plans for a relaxed Christmas, meaning that many families and friends were unable to gather together.
The video was recorded the week after the party, and showed Ms Stratton alongside other No 10 staff members in the Downing Street briefing room.
She was being questioned by the PM's special adviser, Ed Oldfield, in a mock press briefing to practice what answers to give journalists.
It wasn't a party, it was cheese and wine.
When asked about reports of a party in Downing Street "on Friday night", Ms Stratton jokingly replied "I went home", before Mr Oldfield then asked if the prime minister would "condone" a Christmas party.
Ms Stratton asked, "what's the answer?" before other aides joked: "It wasn't a party, it was cheese and wine."
She laughed, saying "is cheese and wine all right?" before adding: "This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced."
The video caused widespread anger across Westminster, with MPs on all sides calling for answers about any rule breaking - especially after days of No 10 denying a party even took place.
The Metropolitan Police said it would not be investigating any potential breaches following the release of the video citing "an absence of evidence".
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case will carry out an inquiry, promising disciplinary action for all those involved.
Stratton moved to her Cop26 role after the planned Downing Street briefings were axed. A former journalist for the Guardian, BBC and ITV, Stratton also worked for the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, before switching to No 10.