LONDON – Former communications chief Boris Johnson apologized ‘wholeheartedly’ on Friday for a lockdown violation party in Downing Street last year – the latest in a series of social events breaking the rules that threaten to overthrow the British Prime Minister.
James Slack said his April 2021 departure party “shouldn’t have been happening by the time this happened.”
“I would like to apologize wholeheartedly for the anger and the hurt caused,” Slack said in a statement.
“I am deeply sorry and take full responsibility,” added Slack, who left government last year and is now deputy editor of tabloid newspaper The Sun.
UK PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON Apologizes As Pressure Builds To Resign From “PARTYGATE”
Johnson is said to have not attended the departure party, which was disclosed by the Daily Telegraph newspaper. Earlier this week, he apologized for attending another rally in Downing Street Garden, his office and home, in May 2020, as the UK was under strict lockdown.
The latest party has dismayed many in Britain because of the symbolism of its timing – April 16, 2021, the day before the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II’s husband Prince Philip.
The Daily Telegraph said Downing Street staff drank, danced and socialized at Slack and another staff member’s departure parties on April 16 last year. The next day, the widowed queen sat alone in the church during her husband’s funeral in order to respect social distancing rules which prohibited mixing indoors.
Photos of the monarch, dressed in black and wearing a face mask, have become a powerful image of the isolation and sacrifice endured by many during the pandemic.
Members of Johnson’s Tory government have expressed support for Johnson after admitting on Wednesday that he attended a ‘Bring your own booze’ staff party in the garden of his Downing Street office in May 2020.
At the time, the law prohibited Britons from meeting more than one person outside their home as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Millions of people have been cut off from family and friends, and even prevented from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.
The latest revelations are expected to prompt more Tories to join their opponents and demand that Johnson resign for flouting government-imposed rules on the country as the coronavirus swept across the UK
Many Tories fear the partygate scandal could turn out to be a turning point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms over his spending and moral judgment.
Johnson on Wednesday said he understood the public’s “rage” but did not admit to wrongdoing, saying he viewed the rally as a professional event to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic.
Johnson has urged people to wait for the findings of an investigation by senior official Sue Gray into several parties suspected of breaking the rules by government staff during the pandemic. Gray, a respected official who has investigated past allegations of ministerial wrongdoing, is expected to report by the end of the month.
The government says Gray’s investigation is independent, but she is a public servant and Johnson is, ultimately, her boss. Gray could conclude that Johnson broke the code of conduct for government ministers, although she does not have the authority to fire him. Johnson did not say what he would do if she found out he was at fault.
Johnson doesn’t have to face voter judgment until the next general election, slated for 2024. But his party could seek to oust him sooner if he judges he has become toxic.
Under Conservative rules, a vote of no confidence in the leader can be called if 15% of party lawmakers write letters asking for it.
Roger Gale, a Tory lawmaker who has long criticized Johnson, said he had previously submitted a letter calling for a leadership challenge.
“I think that minds are now, this weekend, focused on the need to take the necessary measures,” he said. “I clearly don’t know, and I shouldn’t know, how many of my colleagues have sent letters… but I think there is a certain momentum building.”
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