Jan 12, 2022 - World

Boris Johnson apologizes for lockdown-breaking party amid calls to resign

Prime Minister Boris Johnson makes a statement ahead of Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons

Photo: House of Commons/PA via AP

In a revelation that threatens his hold on office, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been accused of lying about his attendance at a boozy Downing Street garden party in May 2020 — at the height of Britain's strict COVID lockdown.

The latest: Johnson delivered a statement on Wednesday confirming for the first time that he attended a lockdown-breaking party, telling Parliament: "I want to apologize. I know millions of people have made extraordinary sacrifices. I know the anguish they have been through. I know the rage they feel."

  • "I believed implicitly that this was a work event," Johnson continued, claiming that he simply wanted to thank his staff for their hard work during the pandemic.
  • "But with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside. I should have found some other way to thank them."

The other side: Labour Party leader Keir Starmer reacted furiously to Johnson's statement, calling for the first time for the prime minister to resign.

  • "There we have it, after months of deceit and deception, the pathetic spectacle of a man who has run out of road," Starmer said.
  • "His defense that he didn't realize he was at a party is so ridiculous that it is actually offensive to the public."

Why it matters: Johnson, who earned a reputation for exaggerating the truth as an anti-EU journalist in Brussels, won a landslide victory in 2019 on a pledge to "Get Brexit Done." He delivered — but now faces the very real threat of being ousted by his own party less than three years into his first term.

Driving the news: For weeks now, Johnson has parried damaging leaks about various lockdown-breaking social events at his house, claiming that they happened under his nose or were in fact "work events."

  • Johnson's former press secretary resigned after being caught on camera joking about a Christmas party, but the Teflon prime minister seemed set to survive.

Then on Monday, ITV News published a May 20 email from Johnson's personal private secretary inviting more than 100 staff to a "BYOB" party in the Downing Street garden to "make the most of the lovely weather."

  • The email was sent less than an hour after the government had warned the public they were not permitted to meet more than one person outside of their household in an outdoor setting — and must stay two meters apart.
  • After Downing Street denied last month that the party took place, The Guardian published a surveillance photo showing that Johnson attended with his wife and top advisers.

The big picture: A flood of leaks has continued to paint a picture of a British government that repeatedly flouted COVID rules — and sometimes joked about doing so.

  • The opposition Labour Party has called for Johnson to resign, and a growing number of the prime minister's Conservative Party colleagues called on him to fess up and apologize.
  • Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said Johnson must resign if he lied to Parliament.
  • Up to now, Johnson had deflected questions about his actions, insisting — to the incredulity of the British press — that an independent investigation would determine whether he attended the party in his own backyard.

Between the lines: Unlike previous Johnson scandals, the revelations about his behavior — at a time when thousands of Brits were forced to hold Zoom funerals — have cut through:

  • 66% of the public believe Johnson should resign.
  • Just 12% think the prime minister is telling the truth — fewer than the proportion that thinks the moon landing was fake.
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