British PM's office apologizes to Queen for staff parties held the night before husband's funeral
Latest controversy over pandemic-era gatherings adding to pressure on British PM's leadership
Boris Johnson's office on Friday apologized to the Royal Family for holding staff parties in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip's funeral last year — the latest in a string of allegedly lockdown-breaching gatherings that are threatening to topple the British prime minister.
Farewell parties for Johnson's departing spin doctor and another staffer, complete with late-night drinking and dancing, took place on April 16, 2021, the night before Queen Elizabeth sat alone at her husband's funeral because of social distancing rules in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Johnson spokesperson Jamie Davies acknowledged that news of the gatherings had caused "significant public anger."
"It's deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and No. 10 has apologized to the palace," he said, using a term for the prime minister's 10 Downing Street office.
Johnson's former communications director James Slack — who is now deputy editor-in-chief of tabloid newspaper The Sun — apologized "unreservedly" for the "anger and hurt" caused by his farewell party.
Office says PM wasn't present
Johnson's office said the prime minister wasn't in Downing Street, where he both lives and works, on April 16, and had been unaware any gatherings were planned.
But each new revelation about social events inside the prime minister's office during the pandemic has weakened his hold on power and strengthened calls for him to resign.
Earlier this week, Johnson apologized for going to a Downing Street garden party in May 2020, when the U.K. was under strict lockdown and people were banned by law from meeting more than one person outside their households. Millions were cut off from family and friends, and even barred from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.
Most indoor social gatherings were also banned in April 2021, and funerals were limited to 30 people.
The symbolism of the latest events' timing that has appalled many in Britain.
The Daily Telegraph, which broke the news, said Downing Street staff drank, danced and socialized late into the night, and that at one point an employee was dispatched with a suitcase to a nearby supermarket to buy more booze.
The next day, the widowed Queen sat alone in a church at Windsor Castle to say goodbye to her husband of 73 years.
Photos of the monarch, clad in black and wearing a face mask, became a powerful image of the isolation and sacrifice endured by many during the pandemic.
Many Conservatives fear the "partygate" scandal could become a tipping point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms over his expenses, and his moral judgment.
A scandal that began with a report of a December 2020 office Christmas party has grown to about a dozen alleged social events in 10 Downing Street and other government buildings. On Friday, the former head of the government's COVID-19 task force, Kate Josephs, admitted holding a drinks gathering in her office in December 2020.
"I am truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result," said Josephs, who is now chief executive of Sheffield City Council.