Downing Street, as the building where the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom lives and works is usually known, has sent a formal apology to Queen Elizabeth II this Friday for the two parties with alcohol and music that up to thirty of its employees celebrated in the hours prior to the funeral of the prince consort, Felipe de Edimurgo. On April 17, the queen sat alone on a side bench in the Windsor Castle chapel, under a black mask that covered part of her face. It was part of the harsh social restrictions that were still in place across the UK. Boris Johnson’s government even asked citizens not to bring flowers to the fence of Buckingham Palace or to Windsor, to avoid crowds in the midst of the pandemic. For all that, the revelation of the diary The Daily Telegraph —very conservative, very supportive of Brexit. Very supportive of Johnson. Until now—that in the hours before the funeral there were two other prohibited parties in Downing Street, popular indignation against the Government has risen several degrees. this friday night, The Mirror has published an exclusive in which he assures that social gatherings during the pandemic have not been something exceptional at the Government headquarters. According to the tabloid, on Fridays it was common for employees to get together for wine and beer after the work week.
“It is deeply regrettable that this occurred during a time of national mourning, and 10 Downing Street has apologized to the Palace. [de Buckingham]”, assured a spokesman for Johnson. There has been a telephone call and official communication in writing to Elizabeth II’s staff, but Downing Street has not wanted to clarify whether Johnson himself has been the one who has transmitted the apologies, or if he plans to do so next Tuesday, in his usual weekly office with the monarch.
“All of this shows how seriously Boris Johnson has demoted the Prime Minister’s Office,” Keir Starmer, the Labor opposition leader, said in a public statement. After going so far this week as to publicly call for his rival’s resignation during their showdown in the House of Commons last Wednesday, Starmer wants to keep the pressure on Johnson at all costs. “The Conservatives have let the UK down. An apology is not the only thing the prime minister should offer to Buckingham Palace. Johnson must do the only decent thing he can do: resign.”
In the two parties that the newspaper has revealed The Daily Telegraph, Johnson was not present. He was at the time at Checkers, the official vacation home of the British Prime Minister. But it was once again under his jurisdiction and mandate that Downing Street staff broke the rules that were rigorously imposed on the rest of the country. Indoor gatherings of people from different homes were then still prohibited.
Both events were called to fire two workers. One of those leaving was James Slack, until then the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications. A heritage from the era of its predecessor, Theresa May. The other was one of Johnson’s official photographers. Alcohol flowed in abundance, as they have narrated to the Telegraph some witnesses. There was laughter and dancing. The revelry lasted until dawn. Some began in the offices and ended in the garden. Others, in the basement of Downing Street, where even a laptop at full volume provided the music. Someone even went to the nearby supermarket with an empty briefcase that he filled with bottles of wine. In the end, the nearly 30 people who joined the two parties ended up together in the garden.
Slack has published this same Friday its own apologies for everything that happened: “I want to apologize unreservedly for all the anger and pain caused. This event should not have taken place at the time it occurred. I am deeply sorry and fully assume responsibility, ”said the former communication advisor.
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According to information from The Mirror, employees regularly met, especially between August 2020 and spring 2021, at the seat of government in what they called wine-time Fridays (wine hour on Fridays). Boris Johnson, assures the newspaper, was a witness to those meetings and although he only participated in a few, he encouraged his team to “let off steam”. About 50 workers had the weekly event scheduled in their calendars between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. and bought a fridge for the alcohol.
The permanent deputy secretary of Johnson’s Cabinet Office, Sue Gray, must conclude in a few days her internal investigation into the prohibited parties held in government facilities, including the one in which Johnson has admitted his presence. Two more parties are now added to their investigations. And the prime minister’s nightmare may not end here. In a country accustomed to pouring alcohol at the end of each working day, the spacious Downing Street garden was the perfect excuse to turn long work meetings into a party, with a clear conscience. This is how many of the participants saw it at that time, without understanding that they were profoundly altering the norms that were severely demanded of the rest of the country. One rule for them, another for the rest. Each new information about the outrages in Downing Street during confinement sinks Johnson’s popularity further to the ground and brings the possibility of a rebellion among Conservative MPs closer to ending his leadership and his career as Prime Minister. This same Friday, Kate Josephs, who during the first moments of the pandemic was at the head of the Downing Street work team to respond to covid-19, has issued an apology statement. Also she, who now works as executive director of the Sheffield City Council, organized on December 17, 2020, in the worst of the new wave that hit the United Kingdom, her own farewell party, with alcohol included. This event is also part of Gray’s investigation.
Johnson’s allies – more within the government than among the parliamentary ranks – ask the Conservative Party for patience, waiting for Gray’s report to be known. Although she is extremely harsh with the Downing Street alcohol and party practices, they trust that the senior official will stick to the facts, do not make value judgments and, above all, avoid any criminal drift of the matter that would force the Metropolitan Police to intervene. But even with the most optimistic result, it will be difficult for Johnson to begin to subside an outrage among citizens and politicians – especially among his fellow conservatives – that has erupted with virulence. The insult to the Queen, when the prohibited parties coincide with a particularly sad funeral, due to the social restrictions imposed, has been for some the last straw. “As everyone has read the story this morning [por el viernes], I have been shocked”, was barely able to say Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Security, in SkyNews. To the two deputies who have publicly announced that they have presented their “letters of withdrawal of confidence” to the 1922 Committee, the leadership of the parliamentary group that organizes the processes of election or rejection of the leader of the Conservative Party, has been joined by a third : Andrew Bridgen. His announcement has a very powerful symbolism: a fervent defender of Brexit, a dedicated Eurosceptic and a staunch critic of the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, his announcement means that Johnson has already fulfilled his mission – to complete the exit from the EU – and it does not serve them as prime minister.
54 letters are necessary for the mechanism of an internal motion of censure against Johnson to be activated. The number of those received so far is being kept secret. Many deputies are still watching from a distance the outcome of a crisis that has surprised everyone by its intensity. If they finally come to the conclusion that the prime minister’s permanence is an obstacle to revalidating their seats, Johnson will have his days counted.