Downing Street party: Boris Johnson has apologised for attending a Number 10 gathering he insists was a “work event” during lockdown
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Downing Street party: Boris Johnson has apologised for attending the Number 10 gathering he insists was a “work event” during lockdown

Boris Johnson faces calls to resign as prime minister after a leaked email appears to reveal that over 100 people were invited to a party during lockdown, which he insists was a “work event”.

Downing Street has apologised to Buckingham Palace for two staff parties held in Number 10 the night before Prince Philip’s funeral.

The gatherings, first reported by The Telegraph, took place on 16 April 2021, when the country was under step two coronavirus restrictions which banned indoor mixing, and went on until the early hours.

The prime minister’s spokesman said it was “deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning”.

Boris Johnson was not at either party - but he continues to face questions over alleged continued Covid rule-breaking at Number 10.

Earlier this week, he faced calls to resign following prime minister’s questions after a leaked email revealed that his aide invited more than 100 employees to a “bring your own booze” party at Downing Street during the first lockdown, when social mixing was banned.

In light of “partygate,” the prime minister began the questions by offering “heartfelt apologies” for attending what he believed was a “work event” in Downing Street on 20 May 2020, when gatherings were banned in England.

Recognising the “anguish” Covid-19 restrictions have caused the public and the “rage they feel with me and the government I lead,” Johnson admitted that “there were things we simply did not get right.”

The chamber heard that on 20 May 2020, he attended the Downing Street garden to thank staff, returning to his office 25 minutes later. “With hindsight I should have sent staff back inside,” he told ministers.

The prime minister also said that he “takes responsibility” but added, “all I ask is Sue Gray can be allowed to continue with her inquiry so the full facts can be found,” referring to the senior civil servant leading the Cabinet Office inquiry into a number of alleged parties in government buildings in 2020. 

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called Johnson “a man without shame” and called for him to “do the decent thing and resign”. 

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The prime minister is understood to have attended the garden party at 10 Downing Street along with Carrie Johnson, then his fiancee, after it was advertised by his principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds. 

“Hi all, after what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!” read an email seen by ITV News.

“It was clearly a breach of the rules,” one witness told The Financial Times. “People were drinking, sitting at tables in different groups. Boris and Carrie were there. There were about 40 people there – it was mainly Number 10 staff.”

On the same day, culture secretary Oliver Dowden reminded the public at a press conference: “You can meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place provided that you stay two metres apart.”

Boris Johnson’s spokesperson declined to comment in light of a continuing inquiry into potential breaches of lockdown in Downing Street, but did not deny that the Johnsons were present at the event.

Following the leaked email, the Met said it was “aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on 20 May 2020” and said it had made contact with the Cabinet Office.

The force has previously said it was policy “not to investigate retrospective breaches of such regulations” after reports of at least five other alleged gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall in winter 2020, including a Christmas party, leaving do, quiz, Number 11 flat party and drinks at the Department for Education.

The party came five days after a 15 May 2020 “wine and pizza” party in the Downing Street garden and inside Number 10, reported by the Guardian, with staff drinking late into the evening.

After Number 10 insisted staff were working, the Guardian published a photograph of Boris and Carrie Johnson sitting with officials at a table with wine and cheese, with 15 other staff in the background.

Boris Johnson claps for carers on 14 May, six days before the alleged party that broke lockdown rules
Boris Johnson claps for carers on 14 May, six days before the alleged party that broke lockdown rules

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Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner responded to the reports, saying: “Boris Johnson has consistently shown that he has no regard for the rules he puts in place for the rest of us.

“He is trying to get officials to take the fall for his own mistakes, but he sets the tone for the way Downing Street and the rest of government operates.”

NHS palliative care doctor Rachel Clarke tweeted: “While we could only meet 1 person outdoors, @10DowningStreet invited 100 people to a party.

While we obeyed the rules, @BorisJohnson stuck two fingers up to them.

“Make the most of the lovely weather”??

363 people died of Covid that day.

While they enjoyed a bloody booze up.”

NHS nurse Nic Cicutti also wrote: “In early May 2020, my sister-in-law Tricia, a head of nursing at GOSH died of Covid after weeks on a ventilator. She’d gone back to the front line at the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson invited 100 guests to a garden party at 10 Downing Street. Speechless.”

Following the previous reports, a Cabinet Office inquiry is currently taking place into a number of alleged parties in government buildings in 2020. 

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