UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson
UK Prime Minister Boris JohnsonReuters

In the UK House of Commons on Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson publicly admitted that he broke COVID rules, attending a party in the garden of 10 Downing Street, his official residence, at a time when such gatherings were prohibited in order to control the spread of coronavirus that was then killing huge numbers of Britons.

On the same day that the British Culture Secretary told the public at a press conference that contacts between households were limited to one person per home, two meters apart, the private secretary to the UK Prime Minister sent out an email to around 100 staff from the government’s inner circle, inviting them to a party in the garden of 10 Downing Street, suggesting that they “make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks…”

Around 40 staff attended the party on May 20, 2020, and after days of pressure to clarify whether he himself was present, Johnson finally admitted that he had indeed been there.

“Mr. Speaker, I want to apologize,” Johnson said in his address to the UK Parliament. “I know that millions of people across this country have made extraordinary sacrifices over the last 18 months. I know the anguish that they have been through, unable to mourn their relatives, unable to live their lives as they want or to do the things they love.

“And I know the rage they feel with me or with the government I lead when they think that in Downing Street itself, the rules are not being properly followed by the people who make the rules … I must take responsibility.”

Johnson went on to claim that he didn’t quite realize it was just a party; he thought the garden was “an extension of the office” and just popped outside for 25 minutes to “thank groups and staff” before getting back to work.

“With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside,” he added. “And I should have recognized that even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way.”

There is some doubt whether the party was technically allowed due to exemptions for government buildings, but Johnson was certainly correct when he noted that millions of people would dismiss that notion.

The incident is now subject to a public inquiry, and although there have been calls for the police to open an investigation, usual policy is not to investigate retrospective breaches of COVID rules.

But the calls for Johnson to resign are now coming from closer and closer quarters, the latest in line being the Scottish leader of the Conservative party; his political future is most certainly hanging in the balance.