Demands were made for the PM to say sorry in person after a Downing Street official was told to make a grovelling apology yesterday – in what has been a highly tumultuous week for Her Majesty. It is understood an aide made the call on behalf of Downing Street for the “regrettable” behaviour in April last year. A picture of the Queen mourning her husband while sitting alone at the funeral due to social distancing has been described as a defining image of the pandemic.
Yet aides refused to say whether the PM – who was not at the booze-fuelled Downing Street event – will be speaking to the monarch personally. Richard Fitzwilliams, a royal commentator, said Mr Johnson should make a personal apology to the Queen.
He said: “Of course the Prime Minister should apologise personally to the Queen. It really is extraordinary if he hasn’t done. I would have thought a personal apology would be appropriate perhaps the next time they have a virtual audience.”
However, royal sources have said there are no plans for the Queen and Mr Johnson to meet or hold an audience over the phone in the next few weeks because she would not normally be around to meet him at this time of year.
The Queen had intended to be at Sandringham from just before Christmas until mid-February and may still go to her Norfolk estate to mark the anniversary of her father King George VI’s death and her accession to the throne on February 6.
A spokesman for the PM said: “It is deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and No 10 has apologised to the Palace. You heard from the PM this week, he’s recognised No 10 should be held to the highest standards, and take responsibility for things we did not get right.”
The latest revelations led to a backlash from opposition parties, who contrasted the behaviour of No 10 staff with the Queen at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral. It is said that two staff get-togethers took place on April 16 last year, at a time when Covid restrictions banned groups from indoor socialising.
They have been added to the list of gatherings in government buildings being investigated by senior civil servant Sue Gray. The PM’s former director of communications James Slack yesterday apologised for the “anger and hurt” one of the events – his leaving do – had caused.
The other gathering was for one of the PM’s personal photographers, it was said. It is alleged around 30 Downing Street staff danced in the basement and drank in the garden, boozing so “excessively” that one person was allegedly sent to a nearby store with a suitcase on wheels to fill with wine, beer and spirits.
There was even said to be a disco, and it is claimed that one attendee broke baby Wilfred Johnson’s swing set. Mr Johnson was already said to be on his way to Chequers when the alleged revelry started.
But the reports are yet another blow to the PM, who failed to stamp out a party culture in No 10 when millions of Britons were making huge sacrifices through the pandemic. England was in step two of the Government’s roadmap at the time, meaning there was a ban on any indoor gatherings of groups from different households, and the limit was six people outdoors.
Any larger gatherings for work purposes had to be “reasonably necessary”, according to the regulations at the time. And there was a potential £10,000 fine for people who organised such events. Last night, more claims emerged that Downing Street staff held “wine-time Fridays” throughout the pandemic – with Mr Johnson allegedly regularly witnessing the gatherings.
Sources said the PM encouraged aides to “let off steam” despite indoor socialising being banned under lockdown rules, it was reported. The regular event was so popular that staff even invested in a £142 drinks fridge to keep their bottles of booze cool, it was claimed.
The “wine-time Fridays” were scheduled into the electronic calendars of around 50 Downing Street staff between 4pm and 7pm every week, it was alleged. Meanwhile, the former director of the Government’s Covid taskforce has apologised for having leaving drinks in her office during lockdown.
Kate Josephs said she is “truly sorry” for gathering with colleagues for alcoholic drinks in the Cabinet Office to mark her leaving the Civil Service, on December 17, 2020.
As fury mounts over the scandal, Mr Johnson is said to be planning a major overhaul of Downing Street by culling officials and advisers in an effort to save his job. Housing Secretary Michael Gove yesterday hinted changes could follow Ms Gray’s report.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, said: “This shows just how seriously Boris Johnson has degraded the office of Prime Minister.”
Last night, there were claims the crisis would put the Government under added pressure to ensure the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee is a huge success. Earlier this week Buckingham Palace unveiled the full line-up of celebrations to mark the Queen’s 70 years on the throne.
Street parties and a concert are part of the plan. It will culminate in a four-day UK bank holiday weekend from June 2 to 5. The PM has already thrown his support behind the celebrations, including a push for people to plant trees to mark the Jubilee.