LONDON (AP) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized on Wednesday for attending a garden party during Britain’s first coronavirus lockdown, but rejected opposition demands that he follow rules imposed on the nation by his own government. resign for infringing.
The apology, which stopped admitting wrongdoing, was an attempt to placate the anger of the public and politicians after Johnson’s repeated accusations that he and his staff flouted pandemic restrictions by socializing on the ban.
The most recent scandal could become a turning point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms, with some members of Johnson’s Conservative Party saying he should quit if he broke the rules.
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Trying to defuse the uproar, Johnson admitted for the first time on Wednesday that he went to a May 2020 garden party at his Downing Street office, though he said he thanked employees for their efforts during the pandemic. For this it was considered a work program.
“I want to apologize. … With retrospectives, I should have sent everyone back in,” Johnson told lawmakers during the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons.
An invitation to “bring your own alcohol” to a “socially-distancing drink” gathering was emailed to about 100 government employees by a senior prime minister aide – although Johnson’s office says he did not receive it.
Opponents and allies alike have called for Johnson to come clean about the party after Britons were barred from meeting more than one person outside their homes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The gathering came as millions were cut off from family and friends, and even barred from visiting relatives who died in hospitals.
Johnson said he understood the anger of those who have made “extraordinary sacrifices over the past 18 months … at the idea that people in Downing Street were not abiding by those rules” – although he did not explicitly acknowledge that they have broken any rules.
Johnson has previously said that he and his staff followed the rules at all times.
He urged people to wait for the conclusion of the investigation by senior civil servant Sue Grey into several alleged parties by government employees. He said Gray would give “full facts” in his report expected by the end of the month.
Opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer said the British public thought Johnson was “lying with his teeth.”
“His defense … that he didn’t know he was at a party is so ridiculous it’s actually offensive to the British public,” Starmer said. “Eventually he was forced to admit what everyone knew, that he was hosting boozy parties in Downing Street when the whole country was locked down. Is he going to do a good job now? And will you resign?
Johnson did not resign, and Wednesday’s apology gave him some time to regain control. But his fate is now in the hands of Grey, a veteran civil servant known as a straight shooter.
The scandal, dubbed “Partygate”, adds to a growing list of troubles for Johnson, who was already facing allegations that his Conservative government flouted pandemic rules at other times, including garden gatherings in Downing Street, Christmas By hosting get-together and office quiz nights, which is both the prime minister’s home and his office. Despite allegations of financial and moral misconduct against himself and his government, he continues to face unease.
In parliament on Wednesday, a group of opposition lawmakers accused Johnson of breaking the law, lying and defaming his office.
Labor lawmaker Kris Bryant said Johnson’s claim that he didn’t realize he was at a party was not credible.
“How stupid does the Prime Minister think the British people are?” Bryant asked.
Johnson may shrug off opposition criticism – as he did during previous scandals – because his Conservatives hold a majority of 80 seats in the House of Commons. More worrying for the prime minister is that many members of his own party are concerned about his decisions and leadership.
Conservatives chose Johnson as leader in 2019 for his spirited manner and popular touch, despite serial allegations of rule-bending and dishonesty that followed him during his twin careers as journalist and politician. The election proved right when he led the party to a major electoral victory in December that year.
But support inside the party is being undermined by discontent over continuing pandemic restrictions, which some conservatives see as harsh and growing list scandals. Now the question is whether “Partygate” could be a far-fetched scam.
The Conservatives have a history of ousting leaders if they become a liability – and a recent surprise defeat in a special election for a district the party has held for more than a century.
Veteran Conservative legislator Christopher Chop said Johnson’s apology helped reassure the party.
“I think this apology has taken some time, and we’ll see what happens,” he said.
But Roger Gale, another senior Conservative MP, said Johnson had “misled the House” with a previous denial of going to the party.
“Politically the prime minister is walking a dead man,” he said.