Boris Johnson apologizes for Downing Street party during UK lockdown

LONDON — Prime Minister of Great Britain

Boris Johnson

sorry for attending a Drinks party held in the garden on Downing Street as strict lockdown measures were introduced in 2020, sought to defuse a growing public outcry and respond to pressure from his own lawmakers about the event.

Mr Johnson addressed in Parliament allegations that many parties were held in Downing Street while lockdown restrictions were in place. “I know they feel angry with me, with the government that I lead,” Mr Johnson said on Wednesday.

In May 2020, a senior official on Mr Johnson’s team emailed staff about the Downing Street garden meeting for drinks. About 100 people were invited when the door lock rule only allowed people to meet one other person outdoors.

Mr Johnson said he attended the event for 25 minutes “to thank the staff groups.” He added that he “tacitly believes” that it was a work event. “With hindsight, I should have brought everyone back inside,” he said.

An internal investigation into the allegations is underway. London’s Metropolitan Police are also considering whether to open an investigation.

During a tense 40-minute question-and-answer session with lawmakers, Mr Johnson faced calls from the opposition to step down.

“Is the prime minister so contemptuous of the British public that he thinks he can dismiss this?” Keir Starmer, leader of the Labor Party, asked. Mr Johnson urged lawmakers to wait for the results of an internal investigation led by a senior civil servant before drawing conclusions.

That internal investigation is also looking into allegations that several other social events also took place in Downing Street during the lockdown.

Lockdowns, vaccine requirements and travel restrictions have swept Europe amid rising Covid infections and fears of a variant detected in South Africa, highlighting new challenges ahead. for the United States as officials want to avoid more outages.

Public anger over the allegations has sent the Conservatives’ ratings in the polls dropping. 23% of the British public currently approve of the government, according to a YouGov poll. Two-thirds of Britons think Mr Johnson should step down over partying issues, according to a Savanta ComRes poll released on Tuesday.

Mr Johnson’s fate is now largely in the hands of the senior civil servant leading the internal investigation and his own lawmakers.

Under Conservative Party rules, 54 lawmakers must submit a letter of no-confidence to a special parliamentary committee to trigger a vote of confidence in their leader. At least half of the party’s lawmakers then had to vote to remove him.

Much of Mr Johnson’s appeal to lawmakers lies in his formidable electoral record. In December 2019, he led a decisive victory in a national election, securing the largest Conservative majority in the House of Commons since 1987. The Tories currently control 361 of the 650 House of Commons seats.

Officials said if Mr Johnson’s popularity appeared to be waning, lawmakers could turn against him.

Mr Johnson has spent the past week answering questions about a scandal the British press dubbed “Partygate”, saying he did not want to end the investigation first.

A spokesman said the change in approach came when he wanted to “acknowledge the power of feeling”. His spokesman said the prime minister had not seen an email inviting staff to a “bring your own” party in Downing Street. She declined to comment on whether he brought a bottle of wine to the party.

Senior lawmakers from the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and Labor have all called for Mr Johnson to step down.

“So the prime minister didn’t find out that he was attending a social event,” Labor lawmaker Chris Bryant said. “How stupid does the Prime Minister think the British public is?”

The apology is the latest twist in a scandal that has simmered since the fall. In December, a video was leaked showing government advisers joking during a fake news conference about how to explain a Downing Street party during the lockdown. Another leaked photo shows Mr Johnson being seated next to him by an aide wearing a tinsel to read questions for a Christmas office test.

Mr Johnson has previously told Parliament he has always followed the rules. The Prime Minister said he would make a statement to the House of Commons once the internal investigation is complete.

Write letter for Max Colchester at max.colchester@wsj.com

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/boris-johnson-apologizes-for-attending-party-at-downing-street-during-lockdown-11641994454 Boris Johnson apologizes for Downing Street party during UK lockdown

Ian Walker

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