No 10 has apologised to the Queen for two parties that took place in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last year, Boris Johnson’s spokesperson has said.
The Daily Telegraph reported that two separate leaving parties, for the former director of communications James Slack and a government photographer, were held on 16 April, with drinking continuing into the early hours.
Confirming an apology had been issued to Buckingham Palace, the prime minister’s spokesperson said: “It’s deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning, and No 10 has apologised to the palace for that.”
He declined to say whether Johnson would apologise in person to the Queen at his next private audience with her, but said the prime minister recognised the public’s “significant anger” about lockdown-busting social events.
The monarch mourned alone at her husband’s funeral because Covid rules at the time prohibited indoor mixing.
According to partygoers who spoke to the Telegraph, the events on 16 April continued into the early hours in the Downing Street garden. A staff member was reportedly sent with a suitcase to a Co-op store on the Strand, a short walk away, returning with the case filled with bottles of wine, and music was played.
“You’ve heard from the prime minister this week. He’s recognised No 10 should be held to the highest standards and take responsibility for things we did not get right,” the spokesperson said.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, said: “This shows just how seriously Boris Johnson has degraded the office of prime minister. The Conservatives have let Britain down.”
“An apology isn’t the only thing the prime minister should be offering the palace today. Boris Johnson should do the decent thing and resign,” he added.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey, said: “Boris Johnson should visit the Queen, apologise personally for the offence he’s caused her and millions around the country mourning for loved ones. He should then use that opportunity to officially hand in his resignation.”
Slack, who worked closely with Theresa May before joining Johnson’s team, issued his own apology on Friday. He said: “I wish to apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused. This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility.”
The prime minister told MPs on Wednesday he had attended a gathering in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020 but claimed he had believed it was a “work event”.
Several MPs including the Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, and the backbencher Andrew Bridgen have since called for Johnson to resign.
Gray is expected to identify a drinking culture in Downing Street, but it is unclear whether she will point the finger directly at Johnson.
The spokesperson declined to say whether he attended Slack’s leaving party himself, saying it would be “inappropriate to comment” in advance of Gray’s inquiry.
“We think it’s right to allow Sue Gray to finalise and conclude her investigation which will set out the full facts,” he said.
He said the prime minister had not been aware of the 16 April events, however, and confirmed that he was staying in Chequers that weekend. The spokesperson declined to say whether evidence of other parties held in Downing Street could yet emerge.