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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Downing Street apologises to Queen over lockdown parties


Downing Street has apologised to Buckingham Palace for two staff parties in No 10 the night before Prince Philip’s funeral.

The gatherings, first reported by The Telegraph, took place on 16 April 2021 and went on until the early hours.

The prime minister’s spokesman said it was “deeply regrettable that this occurred during a period of national mourning.”

Boris Johnson was not present at either party, but he is being investigated for alleged Covid rule-breaking at No. 10.

The latest party revelations sparked a backlash from opposition parties, who compared No 10 staff behaviour to images of the Queen sitting alone at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral due to Covid restrictions.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP are all calling for Mr Johnson to resign after he admitted attending a drinks party in the Downing Street garden during lockdown on 20 May 2020.

And Andrew Bridgen has become the fifth Conservative MP to publicly declare that they have written to the chairman of the 1922 Committee, which organises Tory leadership contests, to express their dissatisfaction with the prime minister.

To force a vote, 54 Conservative MPs must write a letter.

The two staff get-togethers on April 16, last year, took place during a period when Covid restrictions prohibited indoor socialising.


Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, has added them to the list of gatherings in government buildings under investigation.

“This shows just how seriously Boris Johnson has degraded the office of prime minister,” Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said after the apology.

Britain has been let down by the Conservatives. The prime minister should offer more than just an apology to the Palace today.

“Boris Johnson should do the right thing and step down.”

All Downing Street can do at this point is apologise.

The plan was to buy time while waiting for Sue Gray’s report, but even that became untenable as Boris Johnson was forced to apologise to both the Commons and the Queen.

The problem for the prime minister and his team is that they are powerless to change the situation; they have no idea what will happen next and can only react.

The absurd detail in the latest leak about filling a suitcase with wine has spawned a slew of memes mocking Mr Johnson and his staff. No politician wants to be the target of mockery.

For the time being, it’s clear that they’re attempting to shield the prime minister by pointing out that he was away when these latest antics occurred.

There’s no evidence that his cabinet is plotting against him, but the threat remains.

In a phone call, government officials apologised to the Palace.

When asked why No. 10 apologised rather than Boris Johnson, his spokesman said, “Well, again, the prime minister said earlier misjudgements had been made and it’s right people apologise, as the PM did earlier this week.”

The spokesman says he cannot prejudge Ms Gray’s investigation, but adds, “We acknowledge the significant public outrage; it was regrettable that this occurred during a time of national mourning.”

Suitcase of wine

Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, has called on Mr Johnson to personally apologise to the Queen “for the offence he’s caused her and millions around the country mourning for loved ones.”

Last April, the two parties involved around 30 people in total and are said to have converged at some point in the Downing Street garden, where they lasted until after midnight.

Staff were reportedly sent to a nearby shop with a suitcase, which was returned “full of bottles of wine.”

They were both farewell parties, one for the PM’s then-communications director, James Slack, and the other for one of the PM’s personal photographers.

Mr Slack, who is now the deputy editor of The Sun newspaper, has apologised for the “anger and hurt” caused by the party, and has admitted that it “should not have happened at the time that it did.”

At the time, England was under “step two” restrictions that stipulated people could not socialise indoors, except with those from their household or support bubble.

People could socialise outdoors in groups of up to six people or two households.

Timeline: The alleged government gatherings

The government is facing mounting pressure over several events that are alleged to have been held during lockdowns. Here is what we know about them and the restrictions in place at the time:

10 May 2020

Boris Johnson announced a plan to take the “first careful steps” out of the lockdown that began in March 2020. But he said people should continue to “obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them”.

Legal restrictions at the time said you could not leave your house without a reasonable excuse and government guidance was that you could meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor setting while exercising.

15 May 2020

A photo from May 2020 showed the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden. When asked about it, Boris Johnson said, “those people were at work talking about work”.

20 May 2020

About 100 people were invited by email to “socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden” on behalf of the prime minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds.

Witnesses told the BBC the PM and his wife were among about 30 people who attended.

Boris Johnson has confirmed he attended the event, saying he was there for 25 minutes and “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

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