As his government ordered lockdowns during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson threw a "bring your own booze" garden party at his official residence.
Johnson's private secretary invited more than 100 government employees to the May 20, 2020, party at 10 Downing Street, according to an email published Monday by ITV News. About 40 of them eventually attended, including Johnson and his wife Carrie. Under fire from members of his Conservative Party, Johnson apologized on Wednesday but said it was a "work event" and he only attended for a brief time.
"I want to apologize," Johnson said in a speech before Parliament. "I know millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months. I know the anguish that they have been through, unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love. And I know the rage they feel with me, and with the government I lead, when they think that in Downing Street itself, they think the rules are not being followed by the people who make the rules."
The admission by the prime minister is a further instance of the many politicians in the West who have flouted their own coronavirus restrictions. Pro-lockdown Democratic politicians and public health officials in the United States, including White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (Mich.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), former president Barack Obama, and President Joe Biden have repeatedly ignored guidelines on everything from mass gatherings to masking.
Johnson's gathering was first hinted at by former adviser Dominic Cummings, who was also pilloried by the press in May for violating a stay-at-home order while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.
The prime minister faced calls for his resignation following the admission. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer called Johnson's apology "pretty worthless" and asked whether the prime minister would "do the decent thing and resign." Usual allies in the press, such as the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail, have also speculated Johnson's tenure could be coming to an end.
This is the second allegation that has been made against Johnson for violating his government's own COVID protocols. A photo published by the Guardian showed Johnson and members of his staff holding a wine and cheese gathering on May 15, 2020. Johnson downplayed the suggestion that the picture revealed his hypocrisy, saying he was attending "meetings of people at work, talking about work."