Boris Johnson apologizes for attending party during COVID-19 lockdowns

Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized on Wednesday for attending a garden party during the UK coronavirus shutdown in 2020, but dismissed opposition demands to step down for breaking rules imposed by his own government.

Johnson is facing a wave of anger from the public and politicians after claiming he and his staff flouted pandemic restrictions by socializing when he was banned. Some members of his Conservative Party have joined in the criticism, saying he must step down if he cannot quell the fury.

Johnson first admitted on Wednesday that he attended a garden party in May 2020 in his Downing Street office, although he said he considered it a professional event to thank the staff for their efforts during the pandemic.


British Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes a break during a press briefing on the coronavirus in Downing Street, London on Tuesday January 4, 2022.
(Jack Hill, pool photo via AP, file)

“I want to apologize.… Looking back, I should have sent everyone back inside,” Johnson told House of Commons lawmakers.

Opponents and allies have demanded Johnson to say candidly about the bring your own booze party, held when Britain was under a tight lockdown imposed by Johnson to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

An invitation to the “drinks at social distance” rally was emailed to around 100 people by a senior official of the Prime Minister. At the time, the law prohibited Britons from meeting more than one person outside their home.

Johnson’s lunchtime appearance at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session in the House of Commons was his first public appearance since party details were released.

The Prime Minister displayed a tone of contrition but urged people to await the findings of an investigation by senior official Sue Gray into several parts alleged by government staff.

Opposition Labor Party leader Keir Starmer said Johnson’s statement was “a pathetic spectacle of a man short of road.

“His defense… that he didn’t realize he was at a party is so ridiculous it’s actually offensive to the British public,” Starmer said. “He was finally forced to admit what everyone knew, that when the whole country was locked up he was having drunken parties in Downing Street. Is he now going to do the decent thing and quit?”

Johnson refused to resign, but said he understood the anger of people who “have made extraordinary sacrifices in the past 18 months”.

“I understand the anger, the rage they feel that the people of Downing Street do not follow these rules,” Johnson said – although he did not explicitly admit he broke the rules .

He said opponents should wait “for the full conclusion of the investigation, until all the facts are presented to this House.” Gray is due to report on his findings by the end of the month.

The scandal nicknamed “partygate” adds to a growing list of problems for Johnson.

During the UK’s first lockdown, which began in March 2020 and lasted for over two months, almost all gatherings were banned. Millions of people have been cut off from friends and family, and even prevented from visiting dying relatives in hospitals. Thousands of people have been fined by police for violating the ban on gatherings.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Ministers' Questions session in London on Wednesday January 12, 2022.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Ministers’ Questions session in London on Wednesday January 12, 2022.
(AP Photo / Kirsty Wigglesworth)

So there was widespread anger at claims that Johnson’s Tory government flouted the rules it had imposed on the rest of the country by hosting garden parties, Christmas reunions and office quiz nights in Downing Street, which is both the home of the Prime Minister and his office.

In Parliament on Wednesday, a series of opposition lawmakers accused Johnson of breaking the law, lying and debasing his office.

He can ignore these criticisms, since his Conservatives have a majority of 80 seats in the House of Commons. More worrying for the Prime Minister, many in his own party are increasingly concerned about Johnson’s judgment and leadership.

The Tories picked Johnson as their leader in 2019 for his optimistic demeanor and popular touch, and despite the serial allegations of rule breaking and dishonesty that have followed him throughout his dual career as a journalist and politician. The choice seemed justified when it led the party to a big electoral victory in December of the same year.

But support inside the party is being eroded by dissatisfaction with the lingering pandemic restrictions, which some conservatives see as draconian. He also faces concerns about his judgment after a series of allegations of financial and ethical misconduct against him and his government.

Conservatives have a habit of ousting leaders if they become a handicap – and a surprising recent loss in a by-election for a constituency the party has occupied for more than a century has heightened their nervousness.

Conservative lawmaker Christian Wakeford urged Johnson not to “defend the indefensible”.

“It’s embarrassing and the worst part is that it further erodes confidence in politics when it is already weak,” Wakeford wrote on Twitter. “We need openness, trust and honesty in our politics more than ever, and it starts at the top! ”

Another Tory lawmaker, Tobias Ellwood, said Johnson had to apologize and “show some contrition” if he was to weather the storm.

“We can’t let it drift, that’s not an option,” he told Sky News.

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