UK PM Johnson is facing a tide of anger from public and politicians over claims he and his staff flouted pandemic restrictions by socialising when it was banned.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologised for attending a garden party during Britain’s coronavirus lockdown in 2020, but brushed aside opposition demands that he resign for breaching the rules his own government had imposed.
Johnson acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday that he went to a May 2020 garden party at his Downing Street office, though he said that he had considered it a work event to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic.
“I want to apologise. With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside," Johnson told lawmakers in the House of Commons.
Opponents and allies alike have been demanding Johnson come clean about the “bring your own booze” party, held when Britain was under a strict lockdown imposed by Johnson to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
An invitation to the “socially distanced drinks” gathering was emailed to about 100 people by a senior prime ministerial aide.
At the time, people in Britain were barred by law from meeting more than one person outside their household.
Thousands fined for breaking the ban
During the UK’s first lockdown, which began in March 2020 and lasted for more than two months, almost all gatherings were banned.
Millions of people were cut off from friends and family, and even barred from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.
Thousands were fined by police for breaking the ban on gatherings.
So there has been widespread anger at claims Johnson’s Conservative government flouted the rules it had imposed on the rest of the country by holding garden parties, Christmas get-togethers and office quiz nights in Downing Street, which is both the prime minister’s home and his office.
Some members of his Conservative Party have joined in the criticism, saying he must quit if he can’t quell the furore.
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said Johnson's statement was "the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road.
“His defence … that he didn’t realise he was at a party is so ridiculous that it’s actually offensive to the British public,” Starmer said.
“He’s finally been forced to admit what everyone knew, that when the whole country was locked down he was hosting boozing parties in Downing Street. Is he now going to do the decent thing and resign?”
Johnson declined to resign, but said he understood the rage of people who “have made extraordinary sacrifices over the past 18 months.”
“I understand the anger, the rage that they feel at the thought that people in Downing Street were not following those rules,” Johnson said - though he didn't explicitly admit that he had broken any rules.
The prime minister urged people to await the conclusions of an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray into several alleged parties by government staff.
Gray is due to report her findings by the end of the month.