London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday extended a “heartfelt apology” in the House of Commons in response to growing anger around reports of a “bring-your-own-booze” (BYOB) party in the 10 Downing Street garden during COVID-19 lockdown in May 2020.
Johnson has been under intense pressure from the Opposition Labour Party as well as members of his own Conservative Party since an email invitation for the event on May 20, 2020 emerged in the media.
He expressed “regret” as he admitted for the first time that he did attend the event, which he said he believed fell within the scope of a work event.
“I want to apologise. I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months,” Johnson said in his statement to the Commons ahead of the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) session.
“I know the things they feel with me and at 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. And although I cannot anticipate the conclusions of the current inquiry, I have learned enough to know there are things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility,” he said.
He went on to lay out the details of his presence at the garden party “to thank groups of staff before going into my office 25 minutes later to continue waiting”.
“I believed it was a work event. With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside, I should have found some other way to thank them and I should have recognised that even if it could be said to be technically within the guidance, there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way,” he said, calling on Parliament to wait for the findings of an ongoing investigation into lockdown breaches within government ranks.
However, he faced a blistering attack from the Opposition benches, with Labour Leader Keir Starmer leading the charge to demand his resignation.
“Well, there we have it. After months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who’s run out of rope. His defence that he didn’t realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public,” said Starmer.
“When the whole country was locked down, he was holding boozy parties in Downing Street. Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign,” he questioned.
The session was dominated by questions over the lockdown party, with members of Parliament terming the apology as “too little too late” and “worthless”, forcing the UK prime minister to keep repeating his apology and regret.
“I want to repeat that I thought it was a work event, and I regret very much that we did not do things differently that evening,” Johnson said.
“I take responsibility and I apologise. But as for his (Starmer) political point, I don’t think that he should pre-empt the outcome of the inquiry,” he said.
The inquiry is being conducted by senior UK civil servant Sue Gray, who is investigating all such alleged lockdown breaches within government quarters including at Downing Street.
The latest gathering first came to light last week after a string of other revelations around gatherings held during the lockdown in 2020. Previously, a photograph had emerged from May 15, 2020 – five days before the so-called BYOB drinks party – showing Johnson, his wife Carrie and 17 staff members, also in the Downing Street garden. The UK prime minister had dismissed this as “people at work, talking about work” rather than a gathering.
He has since maintained that it was for the ongoing internal investigation to conclude if laws were broken.