The British prime minister is facing calls to step down over a Downing Street garden party amid a Covid lockdown
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has come under increasing pressure to leave his post after admitting that he was briefly present at a gathering of colleagues in the Downing Street garden during a 2020 lockdown.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood in front of fellow lawmakers in the House of Commons on Wednesday and faced down calls for him to resign. The opposition accused him of knowingly breaking his own lockdown rules when attending events with staff at Downing Street.
What happened at Downing Street?
A photo from May 15, 2020 showed Johnson sitting with colleagues in the Downing Street garden on a balmy early summer evening; on the table there appear to be bottles of wine and a cheeseboard.
Originally obtained by The Guardian, the picture shows Johnson sitting beside his wife, Carrie Johnson, accompanied by two other advisers. In the distance, four other colleagues can be seen at another table, while nine staffers talk on the lawn. The prime minister’s spokesman responded to the story, saying that “the prime minister held a series of meetings throughout the afternoon, including briefly with the then health and care secretary [Matt Hancock] and his team in the garden following a press conference.”Johnson, when asked, also claimed that people were talking about work. More recently, it has also emerged that about 100 people were invited by email to “socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden” on behalf of the prime minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds. This gathering took place on May 20 and eyewitnesses say Johnson and his wife were among 30 who attended. Speaking on Wednesday, the prime minister told lawmakers that he “went into that garden just after 6pm on 20 May 2020 to thank groups of staff” but “believed implicitly that this was a work event.”
What exactly is Boris Johnson being accused of?
The May 2020 events took place while Britain was in the midst of a harsh Covid-19 lockdown that prohibited socializing. Government guidance stated that people in England could only meet one person outside of their household in an outdoor setting while exercising.
While ministers have suggested the events were permissible as those present were already in close contact with each other given that they were colleagues, the nature of the gatherings has raised questions about their legitimacy. The May events are by no means the only occasions on which the prime minister is alleged to have broken Covid guidelines. A photo from December 15, 2020 showed Johnson sat between two colleagues as they allegedly held a Christmas quiz. Johnson denied any wrongdoing despite the presence of renewed restrictions over the festive period.
Why are Britons up in arms over Johnson?
The events involving the prime minister and members of his staff came at points when the British public were being asked to make considerable sacrifices to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has now taken more than 150,000 lives in the UK.
By May 2020, all parts of the UK had been locked down for nearly two months, and despite signs of the virus abating, Johnson reiterated throughout May that people should continue to follow the social distancing rules. Legal restrictions at the time stated that you could not leave your house without a reasonable excuse, and Britons were still being asked to work from home. Many Londoners were still hauled up in their flats despite the glorious weather. Renewed allegations of the Teflon-skinned leader’s alleged breaking of Covid-19 protocols has seen his poll ratings dip and has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum, including within his own party.
Calls for the PM to resign
Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was among the first to admonish Johnson’s administration for the May gathering, declaring,
“wtf were any of these people thinking?” A number of senior politicians have called for the PM to resign. Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said he had a “difficult conversation” with the prime minister on Wednesday, adding that he would be registering his lack of confidence in Johnson. Meanwhile, Labour leader Keir Starmer has pressed for Johnson to resign during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. He claimed Johnson’s excuse, that he thought it was a work event, was “so ridiculous that it is actually offensive to the British people.”Johnson himself admitted on Wednesday that he understood people’s anger with him. “I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months. I know the anguish they have been through – unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love,” Johnson told fellow lawmakers.
What did the government say?
Johnson has asked that lawmakers and the public wait for the outcome of an inquiry by a senior civil servant, Sue Gray, who is currently investigating alleged lockdown breaches by the government.
Johnson’s apology in the Commons
The prime minister dodged calls for his resignation on Wednesday, insisting that he believed the May 20 gathering was a work event. However, he did proffer an apology, and said he “
must take responsibility” for the events that took place. Johnson added that if he could go back to that moment, he’d send everyone back inside.