British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has admitted to attending a garden party at his Downing Street residence during a coronavirus lockdown in May 2020, in breach of his government’s own pandemic rules.
Addressing Parliament on Wednesday, Johnson apologised to the public for his actions but deflected opposition demands for his resignation.
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“I know the rage they feel with me over the government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules,” he told the House of Commons during his weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session.
Johnson said he was regretful but had thought at the time that the May 20 gathering was a work event, an excuse that was roundly derided by critics on social media.
The prime minister said he had entered the Downing Street garden to thank his staff members before returning to his office 25 minutes later.
He said that in hindsight, he should have stopped the event from continuing.
About 40 people reportedly attended the party, including Johnson’s wife Carrie, after a senior aide emailed an invite to the “socially distanced drinks” gathering to about 100 people.
At the time, schools were shut to most pupils, pubs and restaurants were closed, and there were strict controls on social mixing under the UK’s lockdown rules.
Two people from different households were allowed to meet outdoors, but only if they maintained a distance of 2 metres (6.5 feet).
Johnson ‘on the ropes’
Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said Johnson’s statement was “the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road” and “offensive to the British public”.
“Will he accept that the party is over and decide to resign?” Starmer asked in Parliament.
Johnson rebuffed the call to step down and urged people to await the conclusions of an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray into several alleged lockdown-breaking parties held by government staff. Gray is due to report her findings by the end of the month.
Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba, reporting from London, said Johnson was “on the ropes like never before” after his admission.
“People are saying that the prime minister’s actions and the way that he’s handled these accusations has undermined the public’s trust in his ability to guide them through and out of the pandemic – of setting the rules and being seen to follow them,” he said.
“Boris Johnson knows that his standing among the British public is at an all-time low.”
Johnson’s premiership has been tarnished by several other controversies, including a scandal over the costly refurbishment of his private Downing Street apartment and persistent allegations of ministerial corruption under his watch.
The 57-year-old won a landslide 2019 election victory for the Conservative Party on a promise to secure the UK’s exit from the European Union and has been lauded for leading Britain’s vaccination efforts, but his popularity plummeted in recent months.
According to opinion polls, the Conservatives have lost their lead over Labour.