Boris Johnson’s office apologizes for party before Prince Philip’s funeral : NPR

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street on Wednesday to attend the weekly session of Prime Ministers’ Questions in London.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP


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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street on Wednesday to attend the weekly session of Prime Ministers’ Questions in London.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

LONDON – Boris Johnson’s office on Friday apologized to the royal family for hosting staff parties in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last year – the latest in a series of allegedly infringing rallies the British prime minister is threatening to do. traps.

Farewell parties for Johnson’s departing spin-doctor and another staff, complete with late-night drinking and dancing, took place on April 16, 2021, the night before Queen Elizabeth II sat alone at her husband’s funeral due to social distancing rules. the spread of the coronavirus.

Johnson spokesman Jamie Davies acknowledged that the news of the meetings had caused “considerable public outrage”.

“It is deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and No. 10 has apologized to the palace,” he said, using a term for the Prime Minister’s 10 Downing St. office.

Johnson’s former communications director James Slack apologized for the “anger and pain” caused by his farewell party.

“I am very sorry and I take full responsibility,” added Slack, who left government last year and is now deputy editor-in-chief of the tabloid newspaper The Sun.

Johnson’s office said the prime minister was not in Downing Street, where he both lives and works, on April 16 and was not aware of any meetings scheduled for that day. But every new revelation about social events in the prime minister’s office during the pandemic has weakened his grip on power.

Earlier this week, Johnson apologized for attending a garden party in Downing Street in May 2020, when the UK was under strict lockdown and the law was banned from meeting more than one person outside their household. Millions were cut off from family and friends and banned from visiting even dying relatives in hospitals.

Most indoor social gatherings were also banned in April 2021 and funerals were limited to 30 people. But it is the symbolism of the timing of the latest events that has shocked many in Britain. The Daily Telegraph, which broke the news, said Downing Street staff drank, danced and socialized late into the night, and that at one point an employee was sent with a suitcase to a nearby supermarket to buy more booze. The next day, the Dowager Queen sat alone in a church in Windsor Castle to say goodbye to her 73-year-old husband.

Queen Elizabeth II sits alone in St. George’s Chapel during Prince Philip’s funeral on April 17, 2021.

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Queen Elizabeth II sits alone in St. George’s Chapel during Prince Philip’s funeral on April 17, 2021.

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Photos of the monarch, dressed in black and wearing a face mask, became a powerful picture of the isolation and sacrifice many had to endure during the pandemic.

Many conservatives fear the “partygate” scandal could be a turning point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms for his spending and moral judgment.

The latest revelations are likely to lead more conservatives to join opponents in demanding Johnson step down for flouting rules the government has imposed on the rest of the country.

In a sign of growing anger in the party’s ranks, the Conservative Association in the staunch Tory district of Sutton Coldfield in central England voted unanimously on Thursday evening to withdraw its support for Johnson.

“The culture starts at the top, doesn’t it?” said Simon Ward, a Conservative councilor.

“We’ve asked people across the country to make huge sacrifices, people in rural Sutton Coldfield to make huge sacrifices, over the past two years. I think we have a right to be heard from everyone in government and in that leadership positions to be expected to follow the same rules and guidelines as well.”

Johnson said in his apology on Wednesday that he understood the public “anger” but stopped admitting wrongdoing, saying he had considered the garden meeting as a work event to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic.

Johnson urged people to await the conclusions of an investigation by senior official Sue Gray into multiple alleged rule-breaking parties by government employees during the pandemic. Gray, a respected official who has investigated past allegations of ministerial misconduct, is expected to report before the end of the month.

The government says Gray’s investigation is independent, but she’s a civil servant and Johnson is ultimately her boss. Gray could conclude that Johnson has violated the code of conduct for ministers, although she does not have the power to fire him. Johnson has not said what he will do if she finds out he was guilty.

Johnson won’t have to face voters’ verdict until the next general election, scheduled for 2024. But his party could impeach him sooner if his colleagues think he’s turned toxic.

Under conservative rules, a vote of no confidence in the leader can be triggered if 54 party lawmakers — 15% of the total — write letters demanding it.

Roger Gale, a conservative lawmaker who has long criticized Johnson, said he had already filed a letter calling for a leadership change.

“I really think the minds are focused this weekend on the need to take the necessary action,” he said. “Obviously I don’t know, and I shouldn’t know, how many of my colleagues have sent letters… but I believe there is a momentum that is growing.”

Cabinet ministers are assisting Johnson, at least for now.

Secretary of State Liz Truss – often cited as a potential successor to Johnson – said she understood “the anger and dismay of the people” over the party revelations.

But she said, “I think we should move on now.”

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