Downing Street held two parties on eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, witnesses report

Boris Johnson is under intensifying pressure after reports Downing Street staff held two parties the night before the Queen was pictured sitting alone to mourn the death of her husband, Prince Philip.

Downing Street did not deny reports in the Daily Telegraph that two leaving parties were held in Downing Street for staff on April 16 last year.

On Friday morning James Slack, former director of communications for the prime minister, apologised for one of the two events, held to celebrate his departure from Downing Street.

Slack, a former political journalist — who is now deputy editor of The Sun — told the Press Association that he wanted to “apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused” and said the event “should not have happened at the time that it did”.

The next morning the Queen sat alone during the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, which was attended by just 30 family members in order to adhere to coronavirus restrictions.

Members of the congregation wore masks and were socially distanced. The public were also encouraged not to pay their respects in person but to follow coverage of the funeral on television or radio.

Government guidance at the time stated: “You must not socialise indoors except with your household or support bubble. You can meet outdoors, including in gardens, in groups of six people or two households.”

The newspaper quotes eyewitnesses who said about 30 people took part in two Downing Street leaving parties which then combined into one, with staff dancing into the early hours of the morning in a basement under Number 10.

One witness claims a reveller was sent to the Co-op supermarket on the Strand with a suitcase to be filled with bottles of wine and returned to Downing Street.

One party was held for Slack and the other for a photographer. The newspaper said the prime minister was not present in Number 10 on the day the parties are alleged to have taken place.

Damian Hinds, security minister, said he was “shocked” by the revelations given the parties took place at a “particularly sombre time” in the history of the country. “Like everybody who’s read this story this morning, I was shocked to read it,” he told Sky News.

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “On this individual’s last day he gave a farewell speech to thank each team for the work they had done to support him, both those who had to be in the office for work and on a screen for those working from home.”

Angela Rayner, deputy Labour leader, said on Twitter: “The Queen sat alone in mourning like so many did at the time with personal trauma & sacrifice to keep to the rules in the national interest. I have no words for the culture & behaviours at Number 10 and the buck stops with the PM.”

The latest revelation has reignited scrutiny of the party culture in Downing Street through the Covid-19 pandemic and intensified questions over Johnson’s leadership.

Earlier this week the prime minister was forced to apologise after admitting he attended a “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020, when such gatherings were banned.

The admission has led to calls for him to resign from the leader of the Scottish Tories and a handful of MPs in his own party.

Andrew Bridgen became the latest MP on Thursday to call for Johnson’s resignation. He said he had submitted a letter to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee of backbench Tories, demanding a vote of no confidence in Johnson. Fifty-four such letters would trigger a vote.

Cabinet ministers have called for patience while Sue Gray, a senior civil servant investigating a series of gatherings across Whitehall that allegedly broke coronavirus restrictions, completes her report.

“The Queen sitting alone, mourning the loss of her husband, was the defining image of lockdown,” Sir Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat leader, said on Twitter. “Not because she is the Queen, but because she was just another person, mourning alone like too many others. Whilst she mourned, Number 10 partied. Johnson must go.”


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