Employees of the Downing Street government complex held two more parties, washed down with alcohol, on April 16, when the United Kingdom was still immersed in severe social restrictions due to the pandemic, and the country was in official mourning for the death of Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip of Edinburgh, six days earlier. The news has been told in exclusive The Daily Telegraph, a newspaper that can be considered the Bible of the conservatives, especially the hard wing. Defender of Brexit, and promoter of Boris Johnson’s political career —it was his task as correspondent for that newspaper in Brussels that catapulted him to fame—, the tone of extreme harshness that he uses to reveal the existence of these two new forbidden parties gives an idea of the cornering of the prime minister.
On this occasion, the newspaper says, Johnson was not in the garden with the rest of the guests. He had gone to the official rest residence, in Checkers. But it was once again under his jurisdiction and mandate that Downing Street staff broke the rules that were rigorously imposed on the rest of the country. Indoor gatherings of people from different homes were then still prohibited. Britons were asked not to drop off flowers in Buckingham or Windsor to avoid crowds that violate social distancing rules.
The way in which the newspaper recounts what happened gives an idea of the intensity of the anger unleashed, in the press and among the conservative deputies, against Johnson: “In a private chapel in Windsor Castle, the coffin of the Prince lay alone for the night. The next day the queen, with her face covered by a black mask, said goodbye to her husband of 73 years. Due to the imposition of social distancing rules, she sat alone. The atmosphere in Downing Street that afternoon was very different. Advisors and officials met, in two separate events, to celebrate the farewell of two colleagues, “says the newspaper’s political correspondent, Tony Diver.
One of those leaving was James Slack, until then the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications. A heritage from the era of its predecessor, Theresa May. The other was one of Johnson’s official photographers. Alcohol flowed in abundance, as they have narrated to the Telegraph some witnesses. There was laughter and dancing. The revelry lasted until dawn. Some began in the offices and ended in the garden. Others, in the basement of Downing Street, where even a laptop at full volume provided the music. Someone even went to the nearby supermarket with an empty briefcase that he filled with bottles of wine. In the end, the nearly 30 people who joined the two parties ended up together in the garden.
The permanent deputy secretary of Johnson’s Cabinet Office, Sue Gray, must conclude in a few days her internal investigation into the prohibited parties held in government facilities, including the one in which Johnson has admitted his presence. Two more parties are now added to their investigations. And the prime minister’s nightmare may not end here. In a country accustomed to pouring alcohol at the end of each working day, the spacious Downing Street garden was the perfect excuse to turn long work meetings into a party, with a clear conscience. This is how many of the participants saw it at that time, without understanding that they were profoundly altering the norms that were severely demanded of the rest of the country. One rule for them, another for the rest. Each new information about the outrages in Downing Street during confinement sinks Johnson’s popularity further into the ground and brings the possibility of a rebellion among Conservative MPs closer to ending his leadership and his career as Prime Minister.
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