Number 10 has apologised to the Queen over two parties held in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.
The prime minister’s spokesperson said it was “deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning”.
Asked to respond to the announcement of Downing Street’s apology, Buckingham Palace declined to comment.
The events on 16 April 2021 – which according to the original report in The Telegraph included people drinking and dancing to music and one attendee being sent shopping with a suitcase to fill with bottles of wine – occurred the night before the Queen was forced to sit by herself at her husband’s funeral at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.
Number 10 issue royal apology
“It is deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and Number 10 has apologised to the Palace,” the PM’s spokesperson said.
“You heard from the prime minister this week, he’s recognised Number 10 should be held to the highest standards and take responsibility for things we did not get right.”
Asked why Number 10 had apologised rather than Mr Johnson himself, the spokesman said: “Well, again, the prime minister said earlier misjudgements have been made and it’s right people apologise, as the prime minister did earlier this week.
“It remains the case that I can’t prejudge the inquiry, which you know is ongoing, which has been led by Sue Gray, but we acknowledge the significant public anger, it was regrettable this took place at a time of national mourning.”
Number 10 said the apology was carried out “through official channels”.
Earlier on Friday, the prime minister’s former director of communications apologised “unreservedly” for one of the parties which was held to mark his departure from Downing Street.
James Slack said he wanted to “apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused” by the gathering, which is said to have involved 30 Downing Street staff partying into the early hours at Number 10 at a time when indoor mixing was banned.
“This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility,” Mr Slack, who last year left Downing Street to become deputy editor-in-chief at The Sun newspaper, said.
PM ‘not in Downing Street’ on 16 April 2021
Last night Number 10 failed to deny the allegation that advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events on 16 April to mark the departures of Mr Slack and one of the prime minister’s personal photographers.
A Number 10 spokesperson told reporters Mr Johnson was not in Downing Street that day. He is said to have been at Chequers in Buckinghamshire – the prime minister’s country retreat.
Security minister Damian Hinds told Sky News he did not know many details of the alleged events, but added: “If the details that are in this story turn out to be true, clearly people are going to form their judgement.”
Mr Hinds said “action can be taken” against any individuals found to have committed wrongdoing by senior civil servant Sue Gray, who is carrying out an investigation into parties held in Downing Street and elsewhere across Whitehall which it is believed will include the 16 April events.
He said he has confidence in Mr Johnson as Conservative Party leader: “I am entirely behind the prime minister and the government, and I think the leadership that the prime minister has shown, particularly through the coronavirus, has been very strong.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss later told reporters she supports the prime minister “100%”.
Attendee ‘sent shopping with suitcase to buy wine’
The two 16 April events were held in two different parts of the Downing Street complex but later joined together in the garden, it is claimed.
The Telegraph reported that one staff member was said to have acted as a DJ at one of the events, while another who was present is reported to have expressed fears that too much wine was being spilled on a carpet.
One eyewitness noted that a staff member used and broke a child’s swing in the garden belonging to Mr Johnson’s son, Wilfred.
At the time of the newly alleged parties, the country was in a period of national mourning, and England was still under strict COVID rules that banned socialising with other households indoors unless you had formed a support bubble.
People in England were also prevented from meeting outdoors in groups larger than six, or from more than two households.
Those coronavirus restrictions also limited Prince Philip’s funeral to just 30 attendees, as with other services, while only 15 were allowed to gather for wakes.
PM facing growing calls to resign
The fresh claims will further fuel the “partygate” crisis threatening the prime minister’s political future as he faces growing calls to resign.
Sir Keir Starmer said the apology “shows just how seriously Boris Johnson has degraded the office of prime minister”.
The Labour leader added: “The Conservatives have let Britain down. 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.”
Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, called on Mr Johnson to “apologise personally to the Queen”, adding: “He should also use that opportunity to officially hand in his resignation.”
These comments were echoed by shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry, who told Sky News: “What we are waiting for is for the prime minister to look into his heart and soul and decide whether or not he has a scrap of human decency in him, because if he does, he will resign.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner wrote on Twitter: “I have no words for the culture & behaviours at number 10 and the buck stops with the PM.”
Meanwhile Fran Hall, from COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “The Conservative MPs that are keeping him in power disgrace their country.”
Another MP submits letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson
The latest Downing Street parties allegations came as Mr Bridgen became the fifth Conservative MP to publicly announce he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister on Thursday night, alongside Caroline Nokes, Douglas Ross, Sir Roger Gale and William Wragg.
If a total of 54 Conservative MPs submit letters to head of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbench MPs Sir Graham Brady, Mr Johnson will be forced to face a confidence vote over his leadership.
Speaking to Sky News on Friday morning, Sir Roger said the events which reportedly took place on 16 April were “wholly unacceptable and completely insensitive and should never have happened” – but added that he does not hold the PM responsible as he “was not there”.
Sir Roger said the allegations “reveal a culture within Downing Street that obviously stems from the top and should not be permitted”, adding: “I don’t think that the image of the Downing Street branch of the Majestic Wine warehouse is doing us any good at all.”
Multiple allegations of COVID rule-breaking in both Downing Street and other government buildings are currently subject to an investigation by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant.
However, she is not expected to report on her findings until next week at the earliest.