Boris Johnson’s former spokesperson ‘apologises unreservedly’ for No 10 party during Covid restrictions

Former official James Slack says event ‘should not have happened at the time that it did’

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 14 January 2022 09:35
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Everything you need to know about the Downing Street party inquiry

Boris Johnson’s former director of communications James Slack has said he wants to “apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused” by a party held to mark his leaving Downing Street in April 2021.

It follows reports that two events were held on the evening of Friday 16 April 2021 — when England was under step 2 coronavirus restrictions which banned indoor mixing and placed limits on attendance at funerals and weddings.

The gatherings also occurred on the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral at St George’s Chapel that saw the Queen sit alone, wearing a face mask, at a socially-distanced ceremony to bade farewell to her husband of 73 years.

The Daily Telegraph said both events were leaving parties for staff working in the prime minister’s inner team. One was said to be held for Mr Slack, who is now deputy editor-in-chef of The Sun newspaper, and the other for Mr Johnson’s personal photographer.

In a statement released on Friday morning by The Sun’s publisher, News UK, Mr Slack said: “I wish to apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused. This event should not have happened at the time that it did.

“I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility,” he added.

However, Mr Slack said he could not comment further on as the matter had been referred to an investigation being carried out by Sue Gray, who has been tasked by the prime minister to produce a report on allegations of rule breaking events held in government buildings.

According to the report of the No 10 gatherings, which lasted beyond midnight, witnesses said that “excessive alcohol” was drunk, attendees danced to music DJ’d by a special adviser and at one point a staffer was allegedly sent to a local Co-op supermarket with a suitcase which they filed with bottles of wine before returning to the party.

Queen Elizabeth II after taking her seat for the funeral of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, on 17 April 2021 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

A No 10 spokesperson told The Independent: “On this individual’s last day he gave a farewell speech to thank each team for the work they had done to support him, both those who had to be in the office for work and on a screen for those working from home.”

Downing Street also said the prime minister was not in No 10 on 16 April 2021, but they would not comment on the claim of a separate leaving do on the same evening for Mr Johnson’s photographer.

Speaking on Sky News, the security minister Damian Hinds said he was “shocked” to read about the reports of further gatherings in Downing Street, but stressed that he was “not in a position to comment” because he was not there.

Confirming the event would be investigated by Ms Gray, he said: “The terms of reference have been clear that those investigations should cover events plural, alleged events, the nature of them, who attended them, what the purpose of them was, and I think we do need to see what comes through in that report.”

The latest reports will to add pressure on Boris Johnson, who faces calls to resign from members of his own party after admitting earlier this week to MPs he had attended a separate No 10 party in the rose garden during England’s first national lockdown on 20 May, 2020.

Labour’s shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry said the Queen had “embodied the suffering” of the country throughout her reign, adding: “And now, we’ve had this collective trauma from Covid, and the way in which she behaved in way which makes us all proud.

“You think of that and you compare it with what was going on in Downing Street where there had been a culture that had been set that over the time of the pandemic, where the prime minister had made it perfectly clear that he was perfectly alright about this, and frankly we would not have been seeing these parties, not just one party, but two parties in one night, if they really thought the prime minister didn’t approve.”

The Labour frontbencher added: “But the point is the culture was set by the prime minister, it’s his responsibility. The only thing you have heard from No 10 Downing Street is that the prime minister wasn’t there. So what, so what.

“He is in charge of Downing Street, he is in charge of the government. They were having DJs in the basement, there were grown men playing on swings, they were sending out suitcases for more booze – the night before Her Majesty was doing the right thing and having a funeral with very few people and she was completely on her own because that’s what the rules said. “

On Thursday, Andrew Bridgen, a Brexiteer and Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, was the latest to publicly announce he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister.

While defending Mr Johnson on severing ties with the EU, he said there was “a moral vacuum at the heart of our government” over revelations at parties held in No 10 while the country was subject to severe Covid restrictions.

“If Boris truly loves our country, our democracy and our party, he should go now with some semblance of grace,” he added.

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