Calls are growing for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign after more revelations came to light about regular parties organised at Downing Street that broke COVID-19 lockdown rules, with Labour party leader Keir Starmer saying Johnson was “unable to lead”.
The UK prime minister witnessed weekly “wine-time Friday” drinking sessions by his staff throughout the coronavirus pandemic, for which they installed a specially bought wine fridge, according to a new report by the Daily Mirror newspaper.
The report in the British newspaper caps a torrid week of revelations about lockdown breaches in Downing Street that saw Johnson’s office forced on Friday to apologise to Queen Elizabeth II.
On Wednesday Johnson apologised to parliament for attending what he called a “work event”, at a time when social mixing was banned.
The drip feed threatens to overshadow reported plans by Johnson to relaunch his embattled premiership, starting with a relaxation of continuing pandemic restrictions later in the month.
Whether Johnson and his staff knowingly broke the law during prior lockdowns is the central question being addressed in an inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray, who could report back next week.
Gray is said to have been “completely blindsided” by the latest revelations, the Times newspaper reported.
The Daily Mirror published a photograph of the wine fridge being delivered to a back door in Downing Street in December 2020, and said staff would regularly stock it with suitcase loads of alcohol.
“Wine-time Fridays” were scheduled into the electronic calendars of approximately 50 staff at Number 10, in apparent violation of a ban on indoor socialising during the pandemic, it reported.
Johnson would often drop by for a chat at the end of the working day, the newspaper said, quoting one source as saying: “The idea that he didn’t know there were drinks is total nonsense.
“If the PM tells you to ‘let off steam’, he’s basically saying this is fine,” the source reportedly added.
Witnesses told the Telegraph newspaper that alcohol was consumed and guests danced to music, with a person sent to a local shop with a suitcase to buy wine.
In response, a Downing Street spokeswoman said the government was awaiting Gray’s inquiry “to establish the facts around the nature of gatherings” during the pandemic. “The findings will be made public in due course,” she added.
Al Jazeera’s Nadim Baba, reporting from Downing Street, said that many citizens were ridiculing the prime minister because of the excuses given for organising the parties.
“There is fury coming from general public directed at the Conservative Party,” he said.
“We are hearing that more and more loyal conservative members have sent angry emails to MPs, with some even cancelling their party memberships,” Baba said.
“An opinion poll released on Friday put the main opposition Labour Party at 42 percent, 10 points ahead of the Conservative Party.”
Protest in Downing Street
On Friday, people wearing Johnson masks danced in Downing Street, calling on the prime minister to resign.
Two parties were held in April 2021 as the queen prepared to bury Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years. Downing Street sent apologies to Buckingham Palace, calling them “deeply regrettable”.
At least five Conservative Party MPs say they have filed letters demanding a vote of no confidence in Johnson, but he plans to launch “Operation Save Big Dog” to salvage his leadership, according to reports.
Johnson’s allies have been touting his achievements in office, including his delivery of Britain’s Brexit withdrawal from the European Union. The Independent newspaper said he will oversee a clear-out of top staff.
But the opposition Labour Party, which has surged in the polls since the “partygate” revelations began emerging last month, said Johnson was unfit for office.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said that the country was witnessing the broken spectacle of a prime minister mired in deceit and deception, adding that Johnson was “unable to lead”.