As queen mourned alone, UK gov’t staff held parties
Allegations of more lockdown-breaking parties at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office are heightening public anger in the United Kingdom, as new reports claim government staff held social events last year while Queen Elizabeth II mourned her husband.
The Daily Telegraph reported on Thursday that two drinks parties were held at Johnson’s official residence on April 16, 2021, in breach of limits on social gatherings under coronavirus restrictions then in place.
Johnson was at his Chequers country residence that day, the paper said.
About 30 people reportedly attended the events and enjoyed drinking and dancing. The gatherings are said to have joined together in the Downing Street garden before finishing in the early hours of the morning.
The next day, Elizabeth bade farewell to Prince Philip, 99. The image of the monarch sitting alone in the church at her late husband’s memorial service was one of the starkest images of the UK under virus restrictions.
Staff at the parties reportedly went to a nearby supermarket to fill a suitcase with alcohol, used a laptop to play music in the Downing Street basement, and broke a swing used by the prime minister’s young son amid their revelry, The Telegraph reported, citing unnamed witnesses.
At the time, Britons were not allowed to socialise indoors, except with those from their household or so-called support bubble. People could socialise outdoors, but in groups of up to six people, or two households of any size.
Johnson’s office apologised to Elizabeth on Friday after the reports of the parties emerged. “It is deeply regrettable this took place at a time of national mourning and No. 10 [Downing Street] has apologised to the Palace,” the prime minister’s spokesman told reporters.
PM under mounting pressure
Johnson, who won a landslide election victory in 2019, is facing the gravest crisis of his premiership after a slew of scandals amid the growing reports about lockdown-breaking gatherings.
The prime minister on Wednesday admitted he attended a “bring your own booze” party at his official residence in May 2020, and apologised.
British police said on Thursday they would not investigate alleged events at Downing Street unless an ongoing internal government inquiry finds evidence of potential criminal offences.
Opponents have called for Johnson to resign, casting the 57-year-old as a charlatan who demanded Britons follow some of the strictest rules in the country’s peacetime history while he and his staff partied.
A small but growing number in his own Conservative Party have echoed those calls, fearing it will do lasting damage to its electoral prospects.
Johnson has given a variety of explanations of the parties, including previously issuing denials that any rules were broken.
In recent days, he has acknowledged the public anger at the apparent hypocrisy of his government.