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Johnson takes 'full responsibility' for lockdown party

January 12, 2022

The British prime minister admitted he attended a garden party during the coronavirus lockdown in 2020, but he brushed aside opposition demands to resign.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement ahead of Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons
Boris Johnson answers lawmakers questions on 'bring your own booze' party at No 10Image: House of Commons/PA via AP/picture alliance

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday apologized for attending a lockdown-busting party at his official residence.

The "bring your own booze" garden party took place at Downing Street on May 20, 2020, amid strict coronavirus restrictions in the rest of the country.

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions time, Johnson said he understood the anger that the revelations had caused.

"I know the rage they feel with me over the government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules," Johnson told parliament.

He offered a "heartfelt apology" but added he had believed the party was a work event.

"I went into that garden just after six on the 20th of May 2020 to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working," he said. "With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the British Parliament
Starmer called Johnson a "pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road"Image: House of Commons/PA Wire/empics/picture alliance

Starmer tells Johnson the 'party is over'

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer slammed Johnson's apology saying, "The party's over prime minister." 

"His defense that he didn't realize he was at a party was so ridiculous it was actually offensive," Starmer said.

"The only question is: Will the British public kick him out? Will his party kick him out? Or will he do the decent thing and resign," Starmer asked. 

The Scottish National Party leader, Ian Blackford, also urged Johnson to "do the decent thing and resign."

"The prime minister stands before us accused of betraying the nation’s trust, of treating the public with contempt, of breaking the laws set by his own government," Blackford said.

Johnson said he would wait for an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray into several alleged parties by government staff.

There were "things we simply did not get right," Johnson admitted.

Conservative MPs have avoided the subject during PMQs but have expressed their frustration with Johnson after the session.

Conservative lawmaker Christopher Chope said the apology had helped reassure the party.

"I think this apology has bought some time, and we will see what happens,'' he said.

Another senior Conservative lawmaker, Roger Gale, however, said Johnson had "misled the House" with previous denials of parties.

"Politically, the prime minister is a dead man walking,'' he said.

A 'bring your own booze' party

London's Metropolitan Police were also in contact with the Cabinet Office about the May 2020 gathering, raising the possibility of a more serious criminal probe.

An email was sent by Johnson's Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds to over 100 employees.

"After what has been an incredibly busy period it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening," Reynolds said in the email. "Please join us from 6 p.m. and bring your own booze!"

On Wednesday, Johnson's press secretary denied he had seen the original email.

Around 40 staff eventually gathered in the garden for the party, including Johnson and his wife Carrie.

At the time, members of the public could only meet one person from another household outdoors, schools were shut to most pupils, pubs and restaurants were closed and people were prevented from bidding farewell in-person to dying relatives.

More lockdown-breaching gatherings at Downing Street

Johnson's premiership has been tarnished by several accusations of lockdown breaches that occurred during 2020.

It includes Christmas parties in November and December 2020.

The event in May happened on the same day the government reminded people that group gatherings were banned indoors and out.

Johnson has previously denied knowledge that any rules were broken in Downing Street, but the latest accusations directly contradict those claims.

Gray's probe has now been widened to include the latest allegations.

Boris Johnson mit seiner Partnerin  Carrie Symonds
Johnson's government is under investigation over allegations that several parties were held during the UK's lockdowns of 2020Image: Jon Nguyen/The Daily Telegraph/PA Wire/empics/picture alliance

Public opinion against Johnson 

Two snap opinion polls suggested a majority of the public believed Johnson should step down.

A YouGov poll of 5,391 people on Tuesday found 56% of people thought Johnson should quit.

A survey by Savanta ComRes showed 66% thought Johnson should resign, up 12 percentage points from a poll taken in December after the reports of Christmas parties.

It said 42% of those who voted for Johnson in 2019 thought he should quit, up 9 points.

lo/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters)