LONDON – Ending a week of abject contrition, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday apologized to Buckingham Palace for the noisy parties in Downing Street the night before her husband Prince Philip’s funeral by the Queen Elizabeth II in a socially distanced ceremony that left her mourning alone in a choir stall.
Mr Johnson, who apologized to Parliament on Wednesday for attending a garden party during a lockdown in 2020, was not present at either of those two gatherings. But reports of greater alcohol-fueled socialization in Downing Street, on the eve of a grim funeral ceremony, known for its poignant image of an isolated and masked monarch, has dealt a further blow to a Prime Minister already shaken.
“It is deeply regrettable that this has come at a time of national mourning,” a Downing Street spokesperson said as outrage against the holidays mounted, “and the No 10 apologized to the palace for it.”
Buckingham Palace, which is concerned about its own crisis, declined to comment on the apology. The Queen stripped her second son Prince Andrew of his military titles and royal charities on Thursday after a New York judge ruled that a sexual abuse trial against him could be held.
The Downing Street spokesman did not say whether Mr Johnson plans to personally apologize to the Queen the next time he has a weekly audience with her. His display of remorse for the party in May 2020, however contrite, failed to calm the storm swirling around him, with opposition leaders and even a handful of Conservative Party lawmakers saying he should to resign.
“It shows how Boris Johnson has downgraded the post of Prime Minister,” Labor leader Keir Starmer said in a post on Twitter. “An apology is not the only thing the Prime Minister should offer the palace today. Boris Johnson should do the decent thing and step down.
The Bacchic details of the two sides on April 16, first reported in the Daily Telegraph, are startling. For one, according to the newspaper, a staff member was sent to a nearby store to fill a suitcase with bottles of wine. An assistant acted as a disc jockey and the revelers continued into the wee hours of the morning, even breaking a swing used by Mr Johnson’s toddler son Wilfred. Mr Johnson was away at the Prime Minister’s country residence, Checkers, at the time, officials said.
One of the events was a farewell party for Downing Street press spokesperson James Slack, who left to become deputy editor of The Sun, one of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids. The Sun reported on the party after its competitors broke it.
“I wish to apologize wholeheartedly for the anger and the hurt caused,” Slack said in a statement Friday. “This event should not have happened when it did. I am deeply sorry and take full responsibility.
Shocked by the recent revelations, Mr Johnson has asked lawmakers to await the findings of an internal parties investigation led by senior official Sue Gray. This is not expected until next week at the earliest, with rising expectations Ms Gray will focus on drinking culture in the Prime Minister’s Office.
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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who is seen as a potential successor to Mr Johnson, called on the public to move on. “He apologized,” she told reporters. “I think we need to move on now and talk about how we’re going to fix the problems.”
But that seemed unlikely, especially given the tabloid-ready nature of the latest reports, which juxtaposed descriptions of boisterous celebrations in Downing Street with stark images of the grieving Queen, isolated in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. . The funeral was so limited by the lockdown demands that Mr Johnson himself gave in to allow an additional member of the Royal Family to attend.
In her annual Christmas speech, the Queen paid tribute to her late husband and lamented how the pandemic had curtailed holiday celebrations.
“Although Covid again means that we cannot celebrate quite as we would have liked,” she said, “we can still benefit from the many happy traditions.”