Boris Johnson’s Office Apologizes to Queen for Parties
LONDON — Capping a week of abject contrition, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain apologized on Friday to Buckingham Palace for raucous parties held in Downing Street the night before Queen Elizabeth II buried her husband, Prince Philip, in a socially distanced ceremony that left her grieving alone in a choir stall.
Mr. Johnson, who apologized in Parliament on Wednesday for attending a garden party during a lockdown in 2020, was not present either of these two gatherings. But the reports of more alcohol-fueled socializing at Downing Street, on the eve of a somber funeral ceremony remembered for its poignant image of an isolated, masked monarch, dealt a fresh blow to an already reeling prime minister.
“It’s deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning,” a spokesman for Downing Street said as outrage over the parties mounted, “and No. 10 has apologized to the palace for that.”
Buckingham Palace, which has been preoccupied by a crisis of its own, declined to comment on the apology. On Thursday, the queen stripped her second son, Prince Andrew, of his military titles and royal charities after a judge in New York ruled that a sex abuse lawsuit against him could go ahead.
The Downing Street spokesman did not say whether Mr. Johnson planned to apologize personally to the queen the next time he has a weekly audience with her. His display of remorse for the party in May 2020, however contrite, has failed to calm the tempest swirling around him, with opposition leaders and even a handful of Conservative Party lawmakers saying he should step down.
“This shows just how seriously Boris Johnson has degraded the office of prime minister,” the Labour Party leader, Keir Starmer, said in a post on Twitter. “An apology isn’t the only thing the prime minister should be offering the palace today. Boris Johnson should do the decent thing and resign.”
The bacchanalian details of the two parties on April 16, first reported in the Daily Telegraph, are vivid. For one of them, the newspaper said, a staff member was dispatched to a nearby shop to fill up a suitcase with bottles of wine. An aide acted as a disc jockey, and the revelers continued until the early hours of the morning, even breaking a backyard swing used by Mr. Johnson’s toddler son, Wilfred. Mr. Johnson was away at the prime minister’s country residence, Chequers, at the time, officials said.
One of the events was a farewell party for a Downing Street press spokesman, James Slack, who left to become deputy editor of The Sun, one of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloids. The Sun reported on the party after its competition broke it.
“I wish to apologize unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused,” Mr. Slack said in a statement on Friday. “This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry and take full responsibility.”
Reeling from the recent revelations, Mr. Johnson has asked lawmakers to wait for the findings of an internal investigation of the parties by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray. That is not expected until next week at the earliest, with expectations growing that Ms Gray will focus on the culture of drinking in the prime minister’s office.
Understand Boris Johnson’s Recent Troubles
Turmoil at Downing Street. A garden party that violated lockdown rules has ensnared Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain in a scandal that could threaten his hold on power. Here is what to know:
A contentious gathering. The British media reported that as many as 100 staff members were invited to a party in the backyard of Mr. Johnson’s residence in May 2020, when officials were instructing people not to socialize to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Internal investigation. A senior civil servant is investigating the matter. Mr. Johnson faces questions about whether he broke lockdown rules and misled Parliament when he claimed last year that he was told there were no Downing Street parties that breached social-distancing rules.
Mr. Johnson’s response. After facing public backlash, Mr. Johnson, who had previously not admitted his presence at the gathering, issued a contrite apology for attending the event. He claimed that he had viewed the party as a work event that did not breach government regulations.
What’s at stake. The crisis has stoked speculations that the political future of Mr. Johnson might be at risk. Though few Conservatives in Parliament have publicly called on him to quit, if the investigation determines that he misled Parliament, it could cost him his job.
The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, who is viewed as a potential successor to Mr. Johnson, appealed to the public to move on. “He has apologized,” she told reporters. “I think we now need to move on and talk about how we are going to sort out issues.”
But that seemed unlikely, especially given the tabloid-ready nature of the latest reports, which juxtaposed descriptions of raucous merrymaking in Downing Street with austere images of the bereaved queen, isolated in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. The funeral was so constrained by lockdown requirements that Mr. Johnson himself gave up his place to allow an extra member of the royal family to attend.
In her annual Christmas address, the queen paid tribute to her late husband and lamented how the pandemic had curtailed holiday celebrations.
“While Covid again means we can’t celebrate quite as we may have wished,” she said, “we can still enjoy the many happy traditions.”