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Johnson staff held lockdown 'party' on eve of royal funeral

January 14, 2022

The scandal surrounding United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson and parties at his Downing Street residence during coronavirus lockdowns appears to have deepened.

Boris Johnson pictured in August 2021
Johnson not only faces calls to resign from the opposition, but also some within his own partyImage: Simon Dawson/Avalon/Photoshot/picture alliance

Fresh allegations arose on Friday about lockdown parties at the residence of United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson — with two separate gatherings on the eve of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II's husband Prince Philip.

Just two days ago, Johnson was forced to apologize for attending a garden party in 2020, after it was revealed that he and his staff at his Downing Street office and residence breached lockdown restrictions. The revelations prompted public outrage in the UK.

The latest media reports suggest his staff held two more parties at Downing Street in April last year, during a period of national mourning.

On Friday, Johnson's office apologized to Queen Elizabeth, saying it was "deeply regrettable" that the gathering took place "during a time of national mourning." 

What is alleged to have taken place?

At the time, social gatherings were limited because of COVID-19 restrictions. An image of the queen sitting alone at the prince's memorial service became a memorable image of Britain under lockdown.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II sits alone in St. George’s Chapel during the funeral of Prince Philip
An iconic image: Britain's Queen Elizabeth II sits alone in St. George’s Chapel Image: Jonathan Brady/AP Photo/picture alliance

The allegations about parties ahead of the royal funeral were published in the conservative Daily Telegraph, for which Johnson was previously a regular columnist.

The paper says Johnson was away from 10 Downing Street at the time, staying instead at his country estate, Chequers.

The report said one party was for the former director of communications and the other, held in a basement, was for official Downing Street photographers.

At the time, no mixing was allowed indoors except for members of the same household or a so-called "support bubble."

What did Johnson apologize for on Wednesday?

While Johnson was not present at the latest events, he was said to have attended at least one party in May 2020, when lockdown restrictions were at their tightest.

Martin Reynolds, the prime minister's principle private secretary, invited some 100 staff to the event that Johnson himself attended. Some 30 to 40 people did attend, despite strict legal restrictions on social mixing — including a limit of 10 at funerals.

In an email marked "Sensitive," he told them to "Bring your own booze."

Johnson admitted to parliament that he had been present to thank staff, but that he had thought the gathering was a work event, not a party. He also said that "even if [the gathering] could be said, technically, to fall within the guidance," millions of people would not agree.

"I should have sent everyone back inside," he told lawmakers, offering his "heartfelt apologies."

Opposition lawmakers — and some from within Johnson's own Conservative Party — have called for the prime minister to step down.

Labour leader Keir Starmer slammed Johnson on Wednesday, describing his defense as "so ridiculous it was actually offensive." 

The prime minister's poll ratings have plummeted since allegations about the parties emerged last month.

A poll by YouGov gave Labour a 10-point lead over the Tories — the biggest margin it has had since 2013. The survey also said six out of 10 voters believe Johnson should resign.

rc/dj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)