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'Bring your own booze!': Outrage over claims Boris Johnson's office held party during lockdown

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By Euronews with AFP
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street in London, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 10 Downing Street in London, Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool

Boris Johnson is in the midst of a new wave of public outrage over the latest allegations that a party was held at Downing Street during the first coronavirus lockdown, at a time when social mixing was banned.

The British leader faces a torrid session at Prime Minister's Questions in parliament on Wednesday, amid fury within his own party as well as the opposition and the wider public. Many have called on him to resign.

A leaked email purportedly shows a top official from Johnson's office invited more than 100 staff to a garden party in May 2020, with a proposal to "bring your own booze". Reports in UK media suggest the prime minister attended the event with his wife Carrie.

The police confirmed on Monday night that they were in "contact" with the government about the matter, which could become the subject of an inquiry for violating COVID-19 health restrictions.

At the time, lockdown restrictions had been in place since late March. It was forbidden to meet more than one other person from another household outdoors in a public place.

According to ITV News, Johnson's Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds sent an email on May 20 to around 100 people, inviting them to "Socially Distanced Drinks".

"After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening," it said.

"Please join us from 6 pm and bring your own booze!"

Wait for inquiry, government says

In late December the Guardian published a photo showing Johnson and his advisers drinking cheese and wine in the Downing Street garden, which the paper said took place in May 2020.

Officials from the prime minister's office said it was a work meeting.

Questioned about the matter before Tuesday's latest claims, Boris Johnson — who has repeatedly insisted that lockdown guidelines were followed — referred to the inquiry underway into alleged social events at Downing Street.

That message was repeated in broadcast interviews on Tuesday morning by Health Minister Edward Argar, who said he was "not going to prejudge" the investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

"This line won't survive 48 hrs. Nobody needs an official to tell them if they were at a boozy shindig in their own garden. People are (rightly) furious," tweeted Ruth Davidson, former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, a branch of Johnson's ruling party in the UK.

Calls for Johnson to quit

The opposition Labour Party has called on the prime minister to resign. It demanded that Johnson answer questions about the allegations in Parliament — but the government sent a junior minister.

Michael Ellis apologised "for the upset that these allegations have caused" but also declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation and saying the government had committed to publishing its findings.

"If wrongdoing is established, there will be requisite disciplinary action taken," he said, adding that any evidence of criminal acts would be passed to the police.

Speaking earlier, Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner described the revelations about the Downing Street garden party as "disgusting" and "despicable".

"At the time many people couldn't see their loved ones who were dying, the British people were told to do the right thing to keep people safe and look after their relatives," she told Sky News.

"We were in a time of crisis and we needed good leadership and what we got is somebody who was good at telling lies and fibs... I think the British public now have just about had enough."

Rayner retweeted a post from the Metropolitan Police from the same day as the alleged party, reminding people that they could enjoy being outside as long as they were "on your own / with people you live with / just you and one other person".

Lindsay Jackson of the "COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice" campaign group, who lost her mother to the virus, also said she wanted Johnson to quit.

"I am ashamed that our great country is led by an individual of this nature... I want him gone," she told Sky News. "I want politicians that I can respect, and he doesn't have any respect... from everyone who followed the rules in this country."

An internal government inquiry is already underway into claims that parties were held in Downing Street around Christmas 2020.

Last month, Johnson's press secretary Allegra Stratton resigned after a video was published in which she appeared to laugh about an apparent Christmas party held at Downing Street.