by Jill Lawless | The Associated Press
LONDON – Boris Johnson’s office apologized to the royal family on Friday for holding staff parties in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last year – the latest in a list of alleged lockdown-violating gatherings that have hit the British Prime Minister. Threatening to topple the minister.
Farewell parties for Johnson’s late spin doctor and another employee, accompanied by late night drinking and dancing, took place on April 16, 2021, the night Queen Elizabeth II sat alone at her husband’s funeral, because of social distancing. Rules to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Johnson’s spokesman Jamie Davis acknowledged that news of the gatherings had caused “significant public anger”.
“It is very regrettable that this happened at a time of national mourning and Number 10 apologized to the palace,” he said, using a word for the prime minister’s 10 Downing St. office.
Johnson’s former communications director James Slack – who is now deputy editor-in-chief of tabloid newspaper The Sun – apologized “incessantly” for the “anger and hurt” caused by his farewell party.
Johnson’s office said the prime minister was not in Downing Street, where he both lives and works, on 16 April, and was unaware that any gathering had been planned.
But each new revelation about social events inside the prime minister’s office, while most of the UK lockdown was permanent, has weakened his grip on power and strengthened calls for his resignation. A scandal that began weeks ago with reports of a December 2020 Christmas party has grown to nearly a dozen alleged social gatherings at 10 Downing Street and other government buildings.
The former head of the government’s COVID-19 task force, Kate Joseph, apologized on Friday for holding a drinking gathering at her office in December 2020. The Daily Mirror reported that Johnson encouraged his office workers to “let off steam” on a regular basis—work “wine time Fridays.” The newspaper said a wine fridge was provided in Downing Street for employees to keep supplies for the gatherings.
So far neither side has been denied by Johnson’s office.
The prime minister is not alleged to have participated in several celebrations. But earlier this week, Johnson apologized for attending a Downing Street Garden party in May 2020, when Britain was under strict lockdown and people were banned by law from meeting more than one person outside their homes Was. Millions were cut off from family and friends, and even barred from visiting relatives who died in hospitals.
Most indoor social gatherings were also banned in April 2021, and funerals were limited to 30 people.
The symbolism of the time of April parties has shocked many in Britain. The Daily Telegraph, which broke the news, said that Downing Street employees drank, danced and socialized late into the night, and at one point accompanied an employee to a nearby supermarket with a suitcase to buy more alcohol. Was sent. The next day, the widowed Queen sat alone in a church at Windsor Castle to say goodbye to her husband of 73 years.
Photos of the emperor, dressed in black and wearing a face mask, became a powerful image of the isolation and sacrifice endured by many during the pandemic.
Many conservatives fear that “Partygate” could become a turning point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms over his expenses and his moral judgment.
In a sign of growing conservative anger over the revelations, the party’s union in the staunch Tory district of Sutton Coldfield in central England voted unanimously on Thursday night to withdraw its support for Johnson.
“Culture starts at the top, doesn’t it?” Simon Ward, a conservative local councillor, said. He said people across the country were asked to make “huge sacrifices” during the pandemic.
“I think we have a right to expect everyone in government and in leadership positions to follow the same rules and guidelines,” he said.
Johnson said in his apology Wednesday that he understood the public’s “anger” but refrained from admitting wrongdoing, saying he gave the garden a task to thank employees for their efforts during the pandemic. The program was considered gathering.
Johnson urged people to await the conclusion of an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Grey into all of the party’s allegations. Grey, a respected public servant who has investigated past allegations of ministerial wrongdoing, is expected to report by the end of the month.
The government maintains that Gray’s investigation is independent, but he is a civil servant and Johnson is ultimately his boss. Gray may conclude that Johnson broke the code of conduct for government ministers, although she does not have the power to sack him. Johnson has not said what he would do if he found he was at fault.
Johnson will not face a voter’s decision until the next general election, scheduled for 2024. But his party may try to oust him sooner if allies believe the leader he has chosen for his popular appeal has turned toxic.
Under Conservative rules, a vote of no confidence in the leader can be triggered if 54 party MPs – 15% of the total – write letters demanding it.
Conservative MP Roger Gale, a longtime critic of Johnson, said he had already submitted a letter calling for a leadership change.
“I think this weekend the mind is now focused on the need to take the necessary action,” he said. “I believe there is some momentum that is increasing.”
Cabinet ministers stand with Johnson, at least for now.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – often cited as a possible successor to Johnson – said she understood “the anger and frustration of the people” at the party’s disclosures.
But she said “I think now we need to move on.”