LONDON – Faced with a potentially deadly threat to its leaders, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday apologized to Parliament for attending a garden party at 10 Downing Street as the country was under lockdown. He admitted to having deeply offended the public, although he claimed he did not violate his government’s regulations on gatherings during the first days of the pandemic.
“I want to apologize,” Mr Johnson said in an extraordinarily tense Prime Minister’s Questions session. “I know there are some things we just haven’t understood, and I just have to take responsibility for them.”
The Prime Minister said he viewed the holiday on May 20, 2020 as “by implication a professional event”, an opportunity to thank Downing Street staff for their efforts during the initial phase of the coronavirus pandemic. But he said he understood that the British public, who were told not to meet more than one person outside of their home, would see him as a double standard.
“Looking back, I should have sent everyone back inside,” Mr Johnson said. “I should have found another way to thank them. “
Prime Minister’s apology failed to appease opposition Labor leader Keir Starmer, who rejected Mr Johnson’s display of contrition, accused him of serial duplicity and demanded he resign .
“The party is over, Prime Minister,” Mr Starmer said, asking, “is he now going to do the right thing and step down? “
Mr Johnson rejected this, asking Parliament to await the findings of an internal investigation by senior official Sue Gray. But he appeared besieged under a torrent of hostile questions from Mr Starmer, a former attorney general, offering little defense and repeatedly apologizing for mismanaging the situation.
Pressure has been mounting on Mr Johnson since the emailed party invitation emerged on Monday evening with clear signs that his support in the Conservative Party was waning. When Mr Johnson sent a cabinet colleague to defend him in parliament on Tuesday, few of his own lawmakers were in favor.
For Mr Johnson, one of the biggest risks is proof he misled Parliament in his previous statements – the kind of transgression that could have forced a prime minister to resign. On December 8, he told the House of Commons: ‘I repeat that I have been assured several times since these allegations emerged that there was no party and that no Covid rule was ‘has been violated.
A week later Mr Johnson told reporters: “I can tell you once again that I certainly haven’t broken any rules.” On December 20, after The Guardian newspaper published a photo of the Prime Minister mingling with colleagues over wine and cheese in his garden during a lockdown, he said: “These were people at work, talking working. “
After the most recent disclosure – the biggest party he also attended – Mr Johnson stopped responding, saying he would await the findings of the internal investigation.
Unlike other ethical issues that have clouded Mr Johnson throughout his career, the fury over the holidays struck a chord with audiences. People vividly remember the dark months when the pandemic began, when they were told to self-isolate at home and were prohibited from visiting elderly relatives, even if they fell ill.