British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was rocked Friday by new claims his staff held lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street on the eve of the funeral for Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s late husband.
The revelations up the pressure on Johnson, who is fighting for his political future amid public outrage at the slew of revelations about similar alleged rule-breaking while the rest of the country followed guidelines — at personal cost.
Johnson, 57, has apologised for attending one event in May 2020 but the latest revelation — from his normally supportive former employer the Daily Telegraph and invoking the Queen in mourning — takes the scandal to another level.
Several dozen staff at his office held two separate boozy bashes on 16 April 2021, when the country was under strict Covid rules and just hours before Philip’s funeral, which was limited to just 30 guests due to Covid rules.
That resulted in the stark image of the Queen, 95, sitting alone in a church pew mourning her husband of 73 years.
Johnson did not attend the newly disclosed April 16 parties last year and was at his official country residence Chequers, according to the Telegraph.
All three main opposition parties have demanded Johnson’s resignation, with some of his own Conservative MPs joining the calls for him to quit after he apologised Wednesday for attending one of the events in May 2020.
Andrew Bridgen, a previously loyal supporter, meanwhile became the latest Tory MP to say he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson to a powerful committee of Conservative MPs.
If 15 percent or 54 of the 360 Conservative MPs in parliament do the same, it will trigger an internal leadership contest — if Johnson does not quit of his own accord.
Bridgen, a staunch supporter of Brexit that swept Johnson to power in 2019, wrote in the Telegraph that there was currently “a moral vacuum at the heart of our government”.
Most cabinet members have rallied around Johnson but the backing from potential successors such as powerful finance minister Rishi Sunak has been distinctly lukewarm.
Johnson has urged all sides to await the findings of an internal inquiry, which is now set to include the latest claims.
Johnson’s former director of communications, James Slack, on Friday apologised for the “anger and hurt” his April 16 leaving party had caused.
Slack, now deputy editor-in-chief at The Sun tabloid, said he took “full responsibility” and was “deeply sorry”.
The party is reported to have merged with another event marking the departure of one of Johnson’s personal photographers, with alcohol and dancing to music late into the night.
One staffer reportedly went to a nearby supermarket with a suitcase to fill it with wine bottles, the newspaper said.
Government guidance at the time outlawed socialising except with your household or support bubble. That saw thousands of families unable to visit loved ones sick or dying with Covid, or even attend their funerals.
Security minister Damian Hinds said he was “shocked” by the latest claims but urged people to wait for the outcome of the investigation.
Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the main opposition Labour party, and others seized on the revelations, arguing they showed a culture of double standards at the heart of government.
“The Queen sat alone in mourning like so many did at the time with personal trauma and sacrifice to keep to the rules in the national interest,” Rayner said.
“I have no words for the culture and behaviours at Number 10 and the buck stops with the PM,” she added.
Fran Hall, from the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, said: “For the people running the country to do it and then lie about it, shows a complete disdain for the general public.”
Johnson’s poll ratings have slumped since “partygate” allegations emerged last month.
One new poll by YouGov in The Times newspaper gave Labour a 10-point lead over the Tories, its biggest margin since 2013, and said six out of 10 voters believe Johnson should resign.
Meanwhile London’s Metropolitan Police said Thursday they would await the findings of the government’s internal inquiry before deciding whether to launch their own criminal probe.
© Agence France-Presse