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Boris Johnson has apologised for a ‘bring your own booze’ party held in the Downing Street garden during lockdown.
The prime minister has been under pressure to explain reports that he attended the party, which was held on May 20, 2020, after a leaked email from his personal private secretary was published, inviting around 100 staff to ‘socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden’.
Johnson claimed he briefly went outside to the garden to thank staff for their ‘hard work’, before returning inside ‘after 25 minutes’, saying he had thought the gathering ‘was a work event’, acknowledging that ‘with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside’.
In a statement given at the start of prime minister’s questions, Johnson said:
I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months… and I know the rage they feel with me and with the government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules aren’t being properly followed.
The drinks, which ITV News reports were attended by around 40 people and offered the chance to ‘make the most of the lovely weather’, took place at a time when outdoor gatherings were banned, with the UK’s lockdown restrictions at the time permitting people to meet only one person from outside their household in an outdoor public space while maintaining a two-metre distance.
In response to Johnson’s statement, Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer asked whether Johnson would resign, saying, ‘Well there we have it. After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who’s ran out of road. His defence that he didn’t realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public.’
‘When the whole country was locked down he was holding boozy parties in Downing Street. Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?’
It is the latest allegation that staff in Downing Street held a social gathering in violation of Covid-19 restrictions, following reports of at least two Christmas parties in December 2020, and a photograph that appeared to show Johnson and his wife, Carrie, at a ‘wine and cheese’ gathering in the Downing Street garden on May 15, 2020.
The leaked email has caused a crisis within government, as calls for Boris Johnson to ‘apologise or resign’ grow even within his own party.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross MP told BBC News that Johnson must quit if he was found to have broken the rules, echoing comments made by Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, who said the prime minister’s position would be ‘untenable’ if he had broken lockdown rules and lied to the public and parliament.
Ahead of PMQs, one Conservative MP tweeted: ‘How do you defend the indefensible? You can’t! It’s embarrassing and what’s worse is it further erodes trust in politics when it’s already low.’
An investigation into the alleged breaches is being led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, with Michael Ellis telling MPs yesterday that questions should wait until the probe was completed.
Following this week’s revelations, two polls showed that a majority of the British public believe Johnson should resign, as Conservative MPs express concern that the multiple scandals could damage them at upcoming elections.
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