LONDON (AP) – Boris Johnson’s office apologized to the royals on Friday for hosting a staff party in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last year – the latest in a series of supposedly breaching lockdown rallies that threaten to topple Britain’s Prime Minister.
The farewell party for the departure of Johnson’s spin doctor, complete with drinking and late-night dancing, took place on April 16, 2021, the night before Queen Elizabeth II sat alone at her husband’s funeral because of social distancing rules in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Johnson spokesman Jamie Davies said the government admitted the party had sparked “significant public anger.”
“It is deeply regrettable that this has come at a time of national mourning and Number 10 has apologized to the palace,” he said, using a term for the Prime Minister’s office at 10 Downing Street.
Former Johnson communications director James Slack said the party “shouldn’t have happened back when it did.” “I would like to apologize wholeheartedly for the anger and the hurt caused,” Slack said in a statement.
“I am deeply sorry and take full responsibility,” added Slack, who left government last year and is now deputy editor of tabloid newspaper The Sun.
Johnson would not have attended the departure party, revealed by the Daily Telegraph newspaper. Earlier this week, he apologized for attending a rally in Downing Street Garden, his office and home, in May 2020, as the UK was under strict lockdown.
The latter party has appalled many in Britain because of the symbolism of its timing. The Daily Telegraph said staff at Downing Street drank, danced and socialized at departure parties for Slack and another staff member late into the night. The following day, the Widowed Queen sat alone in the church during her husband’s funeral at Windsor Castle in order to abide by social distancing rules which prohibited mixing indoors.
Photos of the monarch, dressed in black and wearing a face mask, have become a powerful image of the isolation and sacrifice endured by many during the pandemic.
Members of Johnson’s Tory government have expressed support for the Prime Minister after admitting on Wednesday that he attended a ‘Bring your own booze’ staff party in the garden of his Downing Street office in May 2020.
At the time, the law prohibited Britons from meeting more than one person outside their home as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Millions of people have been cut off from family and friends, and even prevented from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.
Many Tories fear the partygate scandal could turn out to be a turning point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms over his spending and moral judgment.
The latest revelations are expected to prompt more Tories to join their opponents and demand that Johnson resign for flouting government-imposed rules on the country as the coronavirus swept across the UK
In a sign of growing anger within the party ranks, the Tory association in the fiercely Tory district of Sutton Coldfield in central England voted unanimously Thursday night to withdraw support for Johnson.
“Culture starts at the top, doesn’t it? Said Simon Ward, a Conservative city councilor. “And that’s the really disappointing point.
“We were asking people across our country to make massive sacrifices, people in rural Sutton Coldfield to make massive sacrifices, over the past two years. I think we have a right to expect everyone in government and in those leadership positions to follow these same rules and guidelines as well. “
Johnson said in his apology on Wednesday that he understood the “rage” of the public, but did not admit wrongdoing, saying he viewed the rally as a working event to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic.
Johnson has urged people to wait for the findings of an investigation by senior official Sue Gray into several parties suspected of breaking the rules by government staff during the pandemic. Gray, a respected official who has investigated past allegations of ministerial wrongdoing, is expected to report by the end of the month.
The government says Gray’s investigation is independent, but she is a public servant and Johnson is, ultimately, her boss. Gray could conclude that Johnson broke 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 he was at fault.
Johnson doesn’t have to face voter judgment until the next general election, slated for 2024. But his party could seek to oust him sooner if he judges he has become toxic.
Under Conservative rules, a vote of no confidence in the leader can be called if 15% of party lawmakers write letters asking for it.
Roger Gale, a Tory lawmaker who has long criticized Johnson, said he had previously submitted a letter calling for a leadership challenge.
“I think that minds are now, this weekend, focused on the need to take the necessary measures,” he said. “I clearly don’t know, and I shouldn’t know, how many of my colleagues have sent letters… but I think there’s a momentum building. “
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – often cited as Johnson’s potential successor – said she understood “the people’s anger and dismay” at the party’s revelations.
But she said, “I think we have to move on now.”
The Huffington Gt