British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologized for attending a party in the back garden of 10 Downing Street when the rest of the country was under a strict COVID-19 lockdown.
Addressing parliament on Wednesday, Johnson apologized to the public for attending the gathering of up to 40 officials in May 2020, but deflected opposition demands for his resignation.
“I want to apologize. I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months. I know the anguish they have been through — unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love,” Johnson said.
The PM apologized for the way he handled the event and said he had thought at the time that the May 20 gathering was a work event, an excuse that was roundly derided by critics on social media.
“I know the rage they feel with me over the government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules,” he told the House of Commons during the weekly prime minister’s questions session.
Johnson was admitting that he was at a party for the first time, but the leader of the opposition Keir Starmer said the UK prime minister’s excuse that he “did not realize he was at a party” was “ridiculous” and “offensive.”
After Johnson’s statement, one of the Conservatives’ most senior backbenchers, William Wragg, and Douglas Ross, the leader of the party in Scotland, publicly called for Johnson to resign, saying his position had become untenable.
Some cabinet ministers later tweeted their qualified support for the prime minister. The culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, said Johnson had been “right to personally apologize” because people were “hurt and angry at what happened.”
She said it was now right to await the findings of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s investigation into several alleged lockdown-breaking parties held by government staff. Gray is due to report her findings by the end of the month.
Johnson also said he had entered the Downing Street garden to thank his staff members before returning to his office 25 minutes later.
About 40 people reportedly attended the party, including Johnson’s wife Carrie, after a senior aide emailed an invite to the “socially distanced drinks” gathering to about 100 people.
London police has said they are also making inquiries about potential breaches of the lockdown laws in relation to the May gathering.
On the date in question, schools were shut to most students, pubs and restaurants were closed, and there were strict controls on outdoor gatherings. Violators would be legally punished. In workplaces, official guidance stated that in-person meetings should only take place if “absolutely necessary.”
Meanwhile, the UK’s official death toll from the pandemic this week soared above the 151,000 to become the second-highest in Europe.