British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under fresh scrutiny following reports that more than 100 members of his staff were invited to a garden party at his official residence at the height of the 2020 lockdown.
The news marks the latest of a string of alleged gatherings held by government officials over the past two years that broke their own pandemic rules.
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The alleged event on May 20 last year, which Johnson is said to have attended, was first reported late on Monday by British broadcaster ITV.
An invitation to the party was sent out by Johnson’s Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds via email to employees in Downing Street, ITV reported.
“After what has been an incredibly busy period it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening,” Reynolds said in the leaked message, which was seen by ITV. “Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”
London’s Metropolitan Police Service said on Monday it was in contact with the cabinet office after “widespread reporting” of breaches of health protection laws in Downing Street.
About 40 people attended the party, including Johnson’s wife Carrie, ITV reported.
At the time, schools were shut to most pupils, pubs and restaurants were closed, and there were strict controls on social mixing. Two people from different households were allowed to meet outdoors but only if they maintained a distance of 2 metres (6.5 feet).
‘Invite To Do What You Like’
All of the UK’s leading newspapers – except the popular tabloid The Sun – led with the story on their front pages on Tuesday.
“Invite To Do What You Like” read The Mirror’s headline, while The Daily Mail ran with “Boris Rocked By New Party Revelations”.
The media frenzy will heap pressure on Johnson, whose premiership has been tarnished by several recent controversies, to explain his own role in the gathering.
The main opposition Labour Party accused him of having “no regard for the rules he puts in place for the rest of us”, while the Scottish National Party called the email sent by Reynolds “utterly outrageous”.
Johnson’s office declined to comment on the ITV report.
Sue Gray, a civil servant, is investigating allegations of at least five parties held in government departments last year during lockdown restrictions.
The allegations have dismayed voters who were told by the government to carefully stick to social distancing measures.
Johnson’s Conservatives have lost their lead in opinion polls over Labour and last month suffered an election defeat in an historic stronghold.
Meanwhile, the UK’s official death toll from the pandemic continues to rise as infections surge, soaring above the 150,000 mark on Saturday to make it the second-highest in Europe, behind only Russia’s.