London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s authority took a further blow on Friday after revelations that his staff partied in Downing Street as Queen Elizabeth mourned her husband, at a time when the mix inside was prohibited.
Johnson is facing the most serious crisis of his premiership after news of a series of social gatherings at his residence during the COVID-19 shutdowns, some being held at times when ordinary people could not say goodbye in person to dying relatives.
After building a political career by flouting accepted norms, Johnson is under increasing pressure from some of his own lawmakers to resign over an apparent breach of the rules in Downing Street.
The Telegraph said there were two more evenings around Downing Street on April 16, 2021, when indoor and outdoor social gatherings were restricted. Johnson was at his Checkers country residence that day, the newspaper said.
Such was the party in Downing Street, the Telegraph said, as staff went to a nearby supermarket to buy a suitcase of booze, used a laptop to play music and a swing used by the young son of the Prime Minister was broken.
The following day, Queen Elizabeth said goodbye to Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years, following his death at the age of 99.
Dressed in black and a white-trimmed black mask, Elizabeth, 95, cut a poignant figure as she sat alone, in strict compliance with coronavirus rules, at Philip’s funeral at Windsor Castle .
“Leaving the Stage”
Opponents have called on Johnson to step down, casting the 57-year-old prime minister as a charlatan who demanded the British people follow some of the most onerous rules in peacetime history while his own staff partied.
A small but growing number in his own Conservative party have echoed those calls, fearing it could permanently damage his electoral prospects.
“Unfortunately, the Prime Minister’s position has become untenable,” said Conservative lawmaker Andrew Bridgen, a former Johnson supporter. “The time has come to leave the stage.” Johnson gave a variety of explanations for the parties, ranging from denial that any rules were broken to expressing his understanding of the public’s anger at the apparent hypocrisy at the heart of the British state.
To trigger a leadership challenge, 54 of the 360 Conservative MPs must write letters of censure to the chairman of the party’s “1922 Committee”.
Bridgen said he submitted a letter of censure. The Telegraph said no less than 30 censorship letters had been submitted.
Johnson faces a tough year ahead: Beyond COVID, inflation is soaring, energy bills are skyrocketing, taxes will rise in April, and his party faces local elections in May.
One of the April 2021 Downing Street parties was a parting event for James Slack, a former communications director, who said on Friday he wanted to “unreservedly apologize for the anger and hurt caused”.
Slack, now deputy editor of the Sun tabloid, said in a statement to PA Media that the rally “shouldn’t have happened when it happened.”
Asked about the holiday reports the day before Philip’s funeral, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘(Slack) gave a farewell speech to thank every team for the work they had done in supporting him, to both those who had to be in the office for work and on a screen for those who work from home. British police said on Thursday they would not investigate gatherings held at Johnson’s residence during a coronavirus lockdown unless an internal government investigation finds evidence of potential criminal offences.