LONDON (AP) – Boris Johnson’s office on Friday apologized to the royal family for hosting an employee party on Downing Street ahead of Prince Philip’s funeral last year – the latest in a string of allegedly quarantine-breaking gatherings that threaten to overthrow the royal government. Prime Minister of Great Britain.
A farewell party in honor of outgoing political strategist Johnson, culminating in late drinking and dancing, took place on April 16, 2021, the night before Queen Elizabeth II sat alone at her husband’s funeral due to social distancing rules in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Johnson’s spokesman Jamie Davis said the government acknowledged that the party generated “significant public anger”.
“It is very unfortunate that this happened at a time of national mourning and No. 10 has apologized to the palace,” he said, using the term for the prime minister’s office, 10 Downing Street.
Former Johnson communications director James Slack said the party “shouldn’t have happened at the time it did.” “I want to unconditionally apologize for the anger and pain caused,” Slack said in a statement.
“I’m sorry and I take full responsibility,” added Slack, who left government last year and is now deputy editor of The Sun tabloid newspaper.
It is alleged that Johnson did not attend the departure party, according to the Daily Telegraph newspaper. Earlier this week, he apologized for going to a Downing Street garden meeting, at his office and at home, in May 2020 while the UK was under strict lockdown.
The last party shocked many in Britain because of the symbolism of its time. The Daily Telegraph reported that Downing Street employees were drinking, dancing and socializing at parties for Slack and another employee until late into the night. The next day, the widowed queen sat alone in church during her husband’s memorial service at Windsor Castle to comply with social distancing rules against mixing indoors.
Photos of the monarch, dressed in black and wearing a face mask, have become a powerful depiction of the isolation and sacrifice many have endured during the pandemic.
Members of Johnson’s Conservative government expressed support for the prime minister after his admission on Wednesday that he attended a “bring your own drink” staff party in the garden of his Downing Street office in May 2020.
At the time, people in Britain were legally barred from meeting more than one person outside the home as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Millions of people have been cut off from family and friends, even banned from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.
Many conservatives fear that the “coming out to the party” scandal could be a watershed for the leader, who has weathered a number of other storms over his spending and his moral judgments.
The latest revelations are likely to encourage more conservatives to join the opposition and demand that Johnson step down for violating the rules the government imposed on the country as the coronavirus swept the UK.
In a sign of growing anger within party ranks, the Conservative Association in the Tory-leaning Sutton Coldfield area of central England voted unanimously on Thursday evening to withdraw its support for Johnson.
“Culture starts at the top, doesn’t it?” said Simon Ward, a Conservative local councillor. “And it’s really disappointing.
“We have been asking people across our country to make huge sacrifices, people in rural Sutton Coldfield to make huge sacrifices over the last two years. I think we have a right to expect everyone in government and in these leadership positions to follow the same rules and principles.”
Johnson said in his apology on Wednesday that he understands the public’s “anger” but did not admit wrongdoing, saying he considered the gathering a work event to thank employees for their efforts during the pandemic.
Johnson urged people to wait for the results of an investigation led by senior civil servant Sue Gray into numerous alleged party-breaking acts by civil servants during the pandemic. Grey, a respected civil servant who has investigated past allegations of ministry wrongdoing, is expected to submit a report by the end of the month.
The government says Gray’s investigation is independent, but she is a government employee and Johnson is ultimately her boss. Gray could conclude that Johnson violated the code of conduct for government ministers, although she does not have the authority to fire him. Johnson did not say what he would do if she found out that he was at fault.
Johnson will not have to face the voters’ court until the next general election scheduled for 2024. But his party might try to overthrow him sooner if they think he’s become toxic.
Under conservative rules, a vote of no confidence in a leader can be initiated if 15% of the party’s deputies write letters demanding it.
Roger Gale, a Conservative MP who has long been a critic of Johnson, said he had already sent a letter urging him to challenge the leadership.
“I really think that now, this weekend, minds are focused on the need to take the necessary actions,” he said. “I clearly don’t know, and I shouldn’t know, how many of my colleagues sent emails… but I believe there is some momentum that is growing.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, often identified as Johnson’s potential successor, said she understands “popular anger and dismay” over partisan revelations.
But she said, “I think we need to move on now.”