U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson seems to have spent a good deal of COVID-19 lockdown hosting or attending parties that were against rules he himself had imposed. There was the garden gathering in May 2020, which Johnson claimed was a work affair. There was the Christmas party in December of that year, during which Johnson hosted a pub quiz. Now, reports have emerged that the restriction-flouting PM attended a “bring your own booze” garden gathering at 10 Downing Street, also in May 2020, a few days before the U.K.’s initial round of strict lockdown rules were lifted (and a few weeks after Johnson’s own serious bout with COVID).
On Wednesday, Labour Leader Keir Starmer verbally lashed Johnson in front of a boisterous Parliament, calling on him to resign after what he called “months of deceit and deception.”
Johnson unconvincingly claimed that he thought the gathering was a work party.
The British network ITV reports that Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds sent an invite to more than 100 staffers at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s residence. “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,” he wrote. “Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”
Witnesses told the BBC that Johnson and his wife, Carrie Symonds, were among the roughly 30 people in attendance. News of the party’s existence was first revealed by Dominic Cummings, the Brexit architect and onetime Johnson ally who has turned on his former boss in dramatic fashion.
The party may have been a low-risk situation considering its open-air location, but it was held during the U.K.’s first wave of nationwide lockdown measures, which clearly prohibited such gatherings. (By contrast, Donald Trump held an indoor rally in Oklahoma the following month.) ITV notes that the culture secretary at the time, Oliver Dowden, had advised the British public just an hour before the shindig went down that “you can meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place provided that you stay two meters apart.”
The latest revelation — which comes amid other Johnson scandals, and weeks after new COVID restrictions drew mass defections from his own party — has left the already embattled PM facing even more public outrage and political danger. It might even land him in legal trouble; the Metropolitan Police said it was looking into “widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on 20 May 2020,” though the force has been accused of forgoing serious investigations when it comes to the powerful.
On the floor of Parliament Tuesday afternoon, a member of the Northern Ireland–based Democratic Union Party recounted how his mother-in-law had died with no one by her side, highlighting Johnson’s hypocrisy.
Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon called on Johnson to resign, as did Douglas Ross, the leader of the Conservatives in Scotland.
But “the prime minister is going nowhere,” the government’s paymaster general, Michael Ellis, told reporters on Tuesday.
He may not be, but he is in some serious political trouble. Multiple polls show that a healthy majority of Britons want him out.
Presumably, enjoying the lovely weather a year and a half ago was not worth all this. But perhaps if he is ousted from 10 Downing Street, Johnson can indulge in what appears to be his true passion: munching on light snacks and sipping a cocktail while disregarding the law.