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Boris Johnson's office apologises to Queen for party on eve of Prince Philip's funeral

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By Euronews with AFP, AP
A Downing Street sign is fixed at the entrance in London, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.
A Downing Street sign is fixed at the entrance in London, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Boris Johnson's office has apologised to the royal family for holding a staff party in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip's funeral last year.

It comes after yet more revelations that the prime minister's Downing Street staff held parties while the country was in lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier, Johnson's former communications chief apologised after the Daily Telegraph published claims that two leaving parties were held for staff on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral in April 2021.

On the following day, images of Queen Elizabeth sitting masked and alone in church in line with COVID-19 restrictions were a stark symbol of the rigorous measures imposed across the United Kingdom. The country was also in a period of national mourning.

Yet the night before, Downing Street staff gathered for two leaving events to mark the departure of two members of Boris Johnson's team, the Telegraph said.

One was for James Slack, Johnson's former director of communication, while the other party was for one of the prime minister's personal photographers.

The paper says witnesses told it that the events carried on into the early hours and involved drinking and dancing.

The revelations — the latest in a string of rule-breaking social events — come at a moment when the prime minister is battling to remain in his post.

Earlier this week Boris Johnson apologised before parliament over another party during lockdown — one that he attended — which failed to convince critics. There have been many calls for his resignation, including from within his own ruling Conservative Party.

'Unreserved apology'

On Friday, Boris Johnson's spokesman Jamie Davies said the government acknowledged that the party had caused “significant public anger”.

“It’s deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and No. 10 has apologised to the palace," he said, using a term for the prime minister's 10 Downing Street office.

Earlier, the prime minister's former communications chief apologised "unreservedly" on Friday following the fresh revelations.

James Slack said his April 2021 job-leaving party "should not have happened at the time that it did". "I wish to apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused,” he said in a statement.

"I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility," he added. Slack left the government last year and is now deputy editor-in-chief of tabloid newspaper The Sun.

There has been dismay that the Metropolitan Police has declined to investigate the Downing Street events, pending the outcome of an internal inquiry held by a senior civil servant. Many people across the country have been fined for breaching lockdown rules.

Senior British government ministers have also argued that people should await Sue Gray's report before judging the prime minister. On Thursday they expressed support for Boris Johnson and rejected demands that he resign.

Many other Tories have held their tongues, waiting to see whether the crisis threatening his premiership will fade or intensify.

But a split has emerged between the Scottish Conservative Party, and the party at Westminster. Douglas Ross, the party leader in Scotland, said Johnson’s position “is no longer tenable”, and has been backed by other Scottish Tory MPs.

His comment prompted a putdown from the Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House of Commons, who called Ross a "lightweight" — prompting outrage among the party in Scotland.

Johnson's apology greeted with scepticism

On Wednesday Boris Johnson told parliament he wanted to apologise over revelations about a party he attended in the Downing Street garden in May 2020, during the first pandemic lockdown.

He acknowledged the sacrifices made by people across the country and their anger "when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules".

Accepting that he must take responsibility, he nevertheless said he thought the party was a "work event" and that there had been no technical breach of the rules.

Opposition Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer described Johnson's response as "offensive to the British public" and accused the prime minister of "lying through his teeth".

A list of scandals

The allegations to surface this year about Downing Street parties flouting lockdown restrictions are the latest in a series of scandals to dog the prime minister.

Before Christmas, his leadership came under intense pressure following claims of social events held by his advisers a year earlier which led to the resignation of his press secretary.

There was also a backlash after Johnson attempted to block disciplinary moves against a colleague and overhaul the entire standards procedure which found him guilty.

The prime minister also faced scrutiny over the source of financing for the refurbishment of his Downing Street apartment. His ethics adviser cleared him of wrongdoing but subsequently expressed concern that information had been withheld.