U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologized after revealing he briefly attended a drinks party in the garden of 10 Downing Street on May. 10 last year, at a time when the country was subject to draconian social restrictions implemented to stem the flow of coronavirus.
At the beginning of his appearance at the Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Johnson publicly apologized at the dispatch box, admitting he attended what had been advertised as “socially distanced drinks” for Downing Street staff.
“I want to apologize,” Johnson began. “I know that 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 the lives they want or do the things they love.
“And I know the rage they feel with me, and the government I lead, when they think in Downing Street itself the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules.
“There were things we simply did not get right,” Johnson told the House.
“When I went into that garden just after 6:00 p.m. on May 20 — to thank groups of staff before going back into my office 25 minutes later to continue working — I believed implicitly that this was a work event,” the prime minister stressed.
“But with hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside, I should have found some other way to thank them and I should have recognized that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions of people who simply would not see it that way, people who suffered terribly, people who were forbidden from meeting loved ones at all, and to them and to this House I offer my heartfelt apologies.”
Johnson pledged to return to the House and make a formal statement after an ongoing investigation into a number of alleged Downing Street parties during the last 18 months had been concluded.
His remarks were met by ridicule from the opposition benches, and leapt upon by Labour’s opposition leader, Sir Keir Starmer, who regarded Johnson’s apology as “the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road.
“His defense, that he did not realize he was at a party, is offensive to the British public,” added Starmer who called on the prime minister to “do the decent thing and resign.”
What were the rules at the time?
At the time of what the majority of the U.K. media has referred to as a “garden drinks party,” the U.K. was still subject to a national lockdown which had been imposed by Johnson on March 23.
Strict ‘stay at home’ guidance had only just been lifted a week prior, but Brits were still only permitted to meet with one other person from outside their household, and any meeting had to be outdoors and subject to social distancing guidelines.
Non-essential shops and hospitality venues were still closed.
On the day of the event in question, total infections in the U.K. had reached close to a quarter of a million, however due to a highly-publicized lack of supply in Covid-19 tests at the time, the infection rate was expected to be far greater.
Covid-related deaths had reached 34,794, and at a time before any coronavirus vaccine had received regulatory approval, a total of 9,563 people were hospitalized across the U.K.