UK PM Johnson’s staff partied as queen mourned death of husband

  • The Prime Minister’s staff partied the night before Philip’s funeral
  • Johnson faces worst premiership crisis
  • Staff brought alcohol in suitcase, broke a swing?
  • Ex-spokesperson apologizes for the party
  • Conservative legislator tells Johnson: go off

LONDON, Jan. 14 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s authority was dealt another blow on Friday after revelations that his staff had partied in Downing Street while Queen Elizabeth mourned her husband, at a time when mixing indoors was banned.

Johnson faces the worst crisis of his premiership after news of a series of social gatherings at his residence during COVID-19 lockdowns, some of which were held at times when ordinary people were unable to personally say goodbye to dying relatives.

After building a political career by ignoring accepted norms, Johnson is under increasing pressure from some of his own lawmakers to quit for apparent violation of Downing Street rules.

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The Telegraph said two more get-togethers were held in Downing Street on 16 April 2021, when indoor and outdoor social gatherings were restricted. Johnson was at his country residence in Checkers that day, the newspaper said.

Such was the revelry in Downing Street, the Telegraph said, that staff went to a nearby supermarket to buy a suitcase of alcohol, used a laptop to play music and a swing used by the young son of the prime minister was broken.

The next day, Queen Elizabeth said goodbye to Prince Philip, her husband of 73, after his death at the age of 99.

Dressed in black and wearing a white-trimmed black face mask, 95-year-old Elizabeth cut a poignant figure as she sat alone, in strict compliance with coronavirus rules, during Philip’s funeral service at Windsor Castle.

‘LEAVE THE STAGE’

Opponents have called on Johnson to resign, portraying the 57-year-old prime minister as a charlatan who demanded that the British people follow some of the toughest rules in peacetime history while his own staff partied.

A small but growing number in his own Conservative Party have repeated those calls, fearing it will do lasting damage to his electoral prospects.

“Unfortunately, the prime minister’s position has become untenable,” said conservative lawmaker Andrew Bridgen, a former supporter of Johnson. “The time is right to leave the stage.”

Johnson has issued various statements from the parties, ranging from denials that rules have been broken to expressing understanding for public anger at the apparent hypocrisy at the heart of the British state.

To initiate a leadership challenge, 54 of 360 Conservative MPs must write a letter of no confidence to the chairman of the party’s “1922 committee”.

Bridgen said he had filed a letter of no confidence. The Telegraph said as many as 30 letters of no confidence had been filed.

Johnson has a difficult year ahead of him: In addition to COVID, inflation is rising, energy bills are rising, taxes are rising in April and his party faces local elections in May.

One of the April 2021 Downing Street parties was a farewell event for James Slack, a former communications director, who said Friday that he wanted to “apologise unconditionally for the anger and pain caused”.

Slack, now deputy editor of the Sun tabloid, said in a statement to PA Media that the meeting “shouldn’t have happened at the time it happened.”

Asked about reports of celebrations the day before Philip’s funeral, a Downing Street spokesman said:

“(Slack) gave a farewell speech to thank each team for the work they had done to support him, both those who had to be in the office for work and on a screen for those who worked from home.”

British police said Thursday they would not investigate gatherings at Johnson’s home during a coronavirus lockdown unless an internal government investigation finds evidence of possible criminal offences. read more

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Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; adaptation by Michael Holden and Gareth Jones

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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