With varying degrees of enthusiasm, senior British government ministers on Thursday expressed support for Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson and rejected demands he resign for attending a garden party during the country’s first coronavirus lockdown.
Many other Conservatives held their tongues, waiting to see whether the crisis threatening Johnson’s premiership will fade or intensify.
Johnson apologized in the House of Commons on Wednesday for attending a “bring your own booze” party in the garden of the prime minister’s Downing Street office and residence in May 2020. About 100 staff were invited by a senior prime ministerial aide to what was billed as a “socially distanced drinks” event.
At the time Britons were banned by law from meeting more than one person outside their households as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Millions were cut off from family and friends, and even barred from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.
Johnson said he understood public “rage,” but stopped short of admitting wrongdoing, saying he had considered the gathering a work event to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic.
Johnson urged people to await the conclusions of an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray into several alleged parties by government staff during the pandemic. Gray, a public service veteran with a reputation as a straight-shooter, is expected to report by the end of the month.
Johnson was spending Thursday holed up in Downing Street. A planned visit to a coronavirus vaccination center was called off after a family member tested positive for the coronavirus, the prime minister’s office said.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said Johnson’s apology had been “very, very sincere” — but added that the prime minister did not believe he had done anything wrong.
“The prime minister has outlined that he doesn’t believe that he has done anything outside the rules,” Lewis told Sky News. “If you look at what the investigation finds, people will be able to take their own view of that at the time.”
UK ministers rally around embattled Boris Johnson, for now Associated Press