No 10 apologises to Buckingham Palace for ‘deeply regrettable’ parties on eve of Prince Philip’s funeral

Downing Street apologised to Buckingham Palace on Friday over two parties held in apparent breach of lockdown rules on the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s socially distanced funeral.

Boris Johnson’s deputy official spokesman said it was “deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning”, but refused to elaborate on what happened at the gatherings on Apr 16 2021, as the Queen mourned the death of her husband of 73 years.

The spokesman would not comment on allegations reported in The Telegraph, including that members of No 10 staff had danced to music in the basement and filled a suitcase with alcohol from a nearby Co-Op, but said Mr Johnson had not been aware of the plans in advance.

No officials have yet been sacked in connection with the parties on the eve of the Duke’s funeral, which took place when indoor social mixing and gatherings of more than six people outdoors were banned.

James Slack, Boris Johnson's former communications director, apologised for the event and said it 'should not have happened at the time that it did'

Credit: George Cracknell/LNP

The events were held to mark the departure of James Slack, Mr Johnson’s former director of communications, and a Downing Street photographer.

Mr Johnson last spoke to the Queen by telephone on Dec 15, the date of their last weekly audience, as recorded in the Court Circular.

He is not expected to speak to her again for at least another three weeks, until after Accession Day, as is normal custom.

Ministers rallied around Mr Johnson on Friday amid widespread criticism from Tory MPs and Opposition parties, but admitted that the story had the potential to damage his premiership further after a slew of allegations of alcohol-fuelled events at the heart of government.

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, said she was “very, very concerned” about the reports, but that the country should “move on” because Mr Johnson had already apologised for his involvement in a separate event on May 20, 2020.

“I 100 per cent support him to continue getting on with the job,” she said.

Damian Hinds, a Home Office minister, said he had been “shocked” to read reports of two leaving parties in Downing Street but did not know about the evening because he had not been invited.

Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, said the public “deserve the truth”.

“These stories are terrible and I can completely understand the sense of exasperation and anger that people feel,” he told ITV last night.

“But we’ve got an investigation going on now, and rather than a sort of drip, drip, drip of revelations, we need to have a complete, full, candid account of everything that went on.”

All three ministers stressed the need to wait for the outcome of an inquiry by Sue Gray before they could comment further.

On Friday it was confirmed that the Apr 16 events would be added to the growing roster of parties under investigation by Ms Gray, a former head of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office.

Sue Gray will investigate the Apr 16 events as part of her probe into alleged Covid rule-breaking parties in Downing Street

Credit: GOV.UK/PA

Separately, Mr Slack, who has since become deputy editor of The Sun newspaper, released an apology for his involvement in the events.

“I wish to apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused,” he said. “This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility.”

Downing Street also faced internal criticism from civil servants who felt No 10 had let down other government departments that had followed both the coronavirus regulations and the guidelines for the official period of mourning that followed the Duke’s death on Apr 9 last year.

The guidance stated that ministers attending public-facing events should wear a “dark coat, suit, or day dress”, as well as dark gloves and hats if needed.

Flags hung at half mast in Whitehall, while all government announcements during the mourning period required the express permission of Downing Street.

‘Clowns’ in No 10 made mockery of rules

One civil service source told The Telegraph that “clowns” in No 10 had made a mockery of the rules by hosting the leaving parties.

“It came around pretty quickly from No 10 – basically a pause on everything,” the source said. “Stories and announcements planned for months were understandably paused.

“People get that, but they’re annoyed that they were all acting diligently whilst these clowns were doing this.”

Another source said that some No 10 staff had objected to the organising of a leaving party for Mr Slack because they were concerned it would constitute a breach of the Covid regulations.

A source said: “Some of us told a senior colleague in private office that anything marking James’ leaving needed to wait until we were out of the roadmap; that even though he was a wonderful colleague and long-standing member of No 10, it was hard to justify and simply didn’t look good.”

It was also claimed on Friday that Mr Johnson encouraged regular “wine time Fridays” in Downing Street during the pandemic to help staff “let off steam”. The Daily Mirror reported that staff used a suitcase to stock up on wine and beer from a local shop, and kept the drinks cool in a fridge in the office. 

The revelations in the Telegraph piled pressure on Scotland Yard to open a formal criminal probe into rule-breaking by No10 staff.

Pressure is mounting on the Metropolitan Police to launch an official investigation into alleged rule-breaking in No 10

Credit: Joshua Bratt 2022

So far the Metropolitan Police has refused to do so, insisting it will wait for Ms Gray’s report, which is expected to conclude at the end of next week at the earliest.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, was urged on Friday to intervene amid concern that the Met’s handling of the crisis is damaging public confidence.

Baroness Jenny Jones, the Green Party peer and former member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, has lodged a formal complaint against Dame Cressida Dick.

In the letter seen by the Telegraph, Baroness Jones, wrote: “I feel that you, as Mayor of London, must act swiftly to avoid further reputational damage to the Metropolitan Police arising from the Commissioner’s failure to order a police investigation of events at 10 Downing Street.

“The Commissioner must be held to account for this badly managed affair that is leaving the Met’s reputation for impartiality in tatters."

Unmesh Desai, Labour’s policing and crime spokesman on the London Assembly, said the Met should launch an immediate investigation.

“These allegations need to be properly looked into, and the Met Police must be transparent and clearer about how they will go forward with any investigation,” he said.

“There are also outstanding questions over whether police officers stationed at Downing Street were aware of these parties, and if so, why they did not intervene at the time.

“This is why their operations on the evenings when these parties took place should be reviewed.”

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “Any investigation is an operational matter for the Met and it is not in the Mayor’s remit to direct police investigations.”

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