Johnson accused of breaking lockdown with garden party
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a wave of public and political outrage on Tuesday over allegations that he and his staff flouted coronavirus lockdown rules by holding a garden party in 2020, while Britons were barred by law from meeting up with more than one person outside their households.
Opposition politicians called for a police investigation after broadcaster ITV published a leaked email invitation to “socially distanced drinks” in the garden of the prime minister’s Downing Street office and residence. The email from the prime minister’s private secretary, Martin Reynolds, was sent to dozens of people and urged attendees to “bring your own booze”.
The event was scheduled for May 20, 2020 – the same day the government held a televised news conference to remind people that group gatherings were banned indoors and out. London’s Metropolitan Police force also published a reminder that day.
The police force said on Tuesday it was “in contact with” the government over the party claims, which follow allegations of several other rule-breaking gatherings in Downing Street during the pandemic. A senior civil servant who was looking into those accusations will also investigate the latest ones.
Johnson has insisted he personally broke no rules, but British media reported on Tuesday that the prime minister and his wife, Carrie Johnson, attended the garden gathering.
But outrage is mounting since this is not the first time Johnson’s Conservative government has been accused of flouting pandemic rules that imposed the most severe restrictions on Britons’ individual freedoms since World War II.
During the first lockdown, which began in March 2020 and lasted for more than two months, gatherings were banned, with a few exceptions. Millions of people were cut off from friends and family and even barred from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.
While Johnson has weathered the criticism thus far, his problems are piling up. Support for him in his own party is being eroded by discontent over continuing pandemic restrictions, which some Conservatives view as draconian. He is also facing disquiet about his judgement after a slew of financial and ethical misconduct allegations against him and his government.
Britain is not scheduled to hold a national election until 2024, so Johnson does not face an imminent verdict from voters. His party is another matter. The Conservatives have a history of ousting leaders if they become a liability – and a recent surprising loss in a by-election of a district the party held for more than a century has increased their jitters.
On the day of the garden party in May 2020, 268 people with the coronavirus died in Britain, according to official figures, bringing total deaths to more than 36,000. The total now stands at over 150,000, the highest in Europe after Russia.