By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Boris Johnson’s office apologized to the royal family on Friday for hosting staff parties in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last year — the latest in a catalog of gatherings allegedly breaking the lockdown that threaten to overthrow Britain’s prime minister.

Farewell parties for Johnson’s outgoing spin doctor and another staff member, complete with late-night drinking and dancing, were held on April 16, 2021, the night before Queen Elizabeth II died. sits alone at her husband’s funeral due to social distancing rules in place to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Johnson’s spokesman Jamie Davies acknowledged news of the rallies caused “significant public anger”.

“It is deeply regrettable that this has happened at a time of national mourning and that Number 10 has apologized to the Palace,” he said, using a term referring to the Prime Minister’s 10 Downing St. office. Minister.

Political cartoons about world leaders

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Johnson’s former communications director James Slack – who is now deputy editor of the tabloid The Sun – apologized “unreservedly” for the “anger and hurt” caused by his farewell party.

Johnson’s office said the Prime Minister was not in Downing Street, where he lives and works, on April 16 and was unaware of any planned gathering.

But each new revelation about social events inside the Prime Minister’s Office as most Britons endured lockdowns has weakened his grip on power and heightened calls for his resignation. A scandal that began weeks ago with a report of a December 2020 Christmas party has blossomed into a dozen alleged social events at 10 Downing Street and other government buildings.

The former head of the government’s COVID-19 task force, Kate Josephs, apologized on Friday for hosting an aperitif in her office in December 2020. The Daily Mirror reported that Johnson encouraged her office staff to ” let off steam” regularly after work “Fridays at wine time”. The newspaper said staff had a wine fridge delivered to Downing Street to store supplies for gatherings.

So far, neither of the alleged parties has been denied by Johnson’s office.

The Prime Minister would not have attended many parties. But earlier this week Johnson apologized for attending a Downing Street garden party in May 2020, when the UK was under a strict lockdown and the law prohibited people from meeting more a person outside their household. Millions of people have been cut off from family and friends, and even prevented from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.

Most indoor social gatherings were also banned in April 2021 and funerals were limited to 30 people.

The symbolism of the April holiday calendar has appalled many in Britain. The Daily Telegraph, which broke the news, said Downing Street staff had been drinking, dancing and socializing late into the night, and at one point a worker was sent with a suitcase to a nearby supermarket to buy more alcohol. The following day, the widowed Queen sat alone in a church at Windsor Castle to say goodbye to her 73-year-old husband.

Photos of the monarch, dressed in black and wearing a face mask, have become a powerful image of the isolation and sacrifices endured by many during the pandemic.

Many conservatives fear “turnout” could become a tipping point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms over his spending and moral judgment.

In a sign of growing Tory anger over the revelations, the party’s association in the staunchly Conservative district of Sutton Coldfield in central England voted unanimously on Thursday night to withdraw its support for Johnson.

“Culture starts at the top, doesn’t it? said Simon Ward, a local Conservative councillor. He said people across the country have been asked to make “massive sacrifices” during the pandemic.

“I think we have a right to expect everyone in government and in those leadership positions to also follow those same rules and guidelines,” he said.

Johnson said in his apology on Wednesday that he understood the public’s ‘rage’ but refrained from admitting wrongdoing, saying he viewed the garden meeting as a work event to thank staff for its efforts during the pandemic.

Johnson urged people to await the findings of an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray into all of the party’s allegations. Gray, a respected official who has investigated past allegations of ministerial wrongdoing, is expected to report by the end of the month.

The government says Gray’s investigation is independent, but she is a public servant and Johnson is, ultimately, her boss. Gray could conclude that Johnson breached the code of conduct for government ministers, although she does not have the authority to fire him. Johnson did not say what he would do if she found out he was at fault.

Johnson does not have to face voter judgment before the next general election, scheduled for 2024. But his party could seek to oust him sooner if his colleagues think the leader they have chosen for his popular appeal is become toxic.

Under Conservative rules, a vote of no confidence in the leader can be triggered if 54 party lawmakers – 15% of the total – write letters asking for it.

Roger Gale, a conservative lawmaker who has long been critical of Johnson, said he had already submitted a letter calling for a change in leadership.

“I think minds are now, over this weekend, focused on the need to take the necessary steps,” he said. “I believe there is momentum building.”

Cabinet ministers are backing Johnson, at least for now.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss – often cited as a potential successor to Johnson – said she understood “people’s anger and dismay” at the party’s revelations.

But she said “I think now we have to move on.”

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