Number 10 apologises to the Queen for rule-breaking party on eve of Prince Philip's funeral

Downing Street staff brought a suitcase of wine into No10 for leaving parties that took place as the Queen was preparing for her husband's funeral, as Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports

Number 10 has apologised to the Queen after revelations that two Covid-rule-breaking parties were held on Downing Street the day before her husband's funeral.

The party, held on April 16, 2021, was confirmed after the prime minister’s former director of communications apologised for attending.

James Slack admitted a leaving do was held for him - as reported by the Daily Telegraph - at which he gave a speech to mark his departure from Number 10 to become deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper.

Pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson over the latest revelation as calls for his resignation grow - Anushka explains

The timing of the party, just one day before Prince Philip's funeral, is causing particular concern, given coronavirus rules at the time forced the Queen to attend the ceremony wearing a face mask, socially distanced from her family.

No 10 said: "It's deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and Number 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."

Buckingham Palace declined to comment when asked for a response to the apology.

James Slack is Boris Johnson's former director of communications. Credit: Number 10

Asked why No 10 had apologised rather than the PM himself, the spokesman said: "Well, again, the prime minister said earlier misjudgments have been made and it's right people apologise, as the PM did earlier this week."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer again called on the PM to resign, adding that the apology shows "just how seriously" Mr Johnson has "degraded the office of prime minister." 

“The Conservatives have let Britain down. An apology isn’t the only thing the prime minister should be offering the Palace today. Boris Johnson should do the decent thing and resign.”

Mr Slack said he would like to "apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused", accepting the event "should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility".

He said he was refusing to comment further than he already has, claiming an investigation into the parties by civil servant Sue Gray prevents him from doing so.

But it's Boris Johnson, who is already under intense pressure for attending a separate lockdown breaking party himself in May 2020, who many believe is responsible for the behaviour of staff under his leadership.

The prime minister was not at the April 16 party, it is understood.

The Mirror added to the PM's woes on Friday night, reporting "wine time Fridays" were a regular occurrence for Number 10 staff throughout the pandemic.

The paper said a nearly £150 drinks fridge was bought to accommodate the event, reportedly organised by the Number 10 press office.

Downing Street has been approached for comment on the report.

Meanwhile, Downing Street needed to provide a further denial that Mr Johnson and his wife Carrie flouted government advice by moving between Chequers and No 10 between 16 and 27 March 2020.

“This claim that the Prime Minister did not comply with lockdown regulations and guidance is entirely inaccurate," a spokesperson said.“At that time, Mrs Johnson was heavily pregnant and had been placed in a vulnerable category and advised to minimise social contact. In line with clinical guidance and to minimise the risk to her they were based at Chequers during this period, with the Prime Minister commuting to Downing Street to work.”

Despite the series of admissions (as well as email and video evidence about some of the parties) the Metropolitan Police has maintained it will only review its decision not to investigate at this stage if "significant evidence" becomes available.

Meanwhile, another party was held in the Cabinet Office to say farewell to Kate Josephs, who until December 18 2020, was responsible for drawing up coronavirus restrictions as director-general of the Cabinet Office Covid Taskforce.

Ms Josephs, who is now CEO of Sheffield City Council, issued an apology for holding the drinks event on December 17, telling her Twitter followers she is "truly sorry".

Number 10 is continuing to use the reasoning of Sue Gray's investigation into parties as its excuse to not provide further explanation on the series of parties - some alleged, some confirmed - to have taken place.

This email was sent by the prime minister's personal private secretary, inviting more 100 staff members for drinks in the Number 10 garden. Credit: ITV News

This includes what happened in the Number 10 garden on May 20, 2020, after more than 100 staff were invited to for drinks.

Liz Truss, the foreign secretary who has been tipped to eventually replace Mr Johnson, said she was "very, very concerned" to reports of more parties on Downing Street - adding to the numerous events already being investigated.

She said it is "very clear that there were real mistakes made" but urged people to "move on" and wait for Ms Gray's inquiry to conclude.

What happened on April 16 at Downing Street?

Aside from the leaving do James Slack has admitted to, another farewell gathering for one of the PM's personal photographers was also allegedly held on the same evening at Downing Street.

The two parties later merged together and had 30 people in attendance, it is reported. Witnesses said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music.

A source, who attended the April 16 party, told ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand that descriptions of the parties are “incredibly accurate” and more than one staff member got merry enough to use Boris Johnson's son Wilf's swing.

At the time, England was in step two of the roadmap out of lockdown, which limited socialising to groups of six indoors or two households outdoors.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “On this individual’s (James Slack'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.”

'While she mourned, Number 10 partied'

Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “The Queen sitting alone, mourning the loss of her husband, was the defining image of lockdown. Not because she is the Queen, but because she was just another person, mourning alone like too many others.

“Whilst she mourned, Number 10 partied. Johnson must go.”

His comments were echoed by Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, who wrote on Twitter: “The Queen sat alone in mourning like so many did at the time with personal trauma & sacrifice to keep to the rules in the national interest.

“I have no words for the culture & behaviours at number 10 and the buck stops with the PM.”

Fran Hall, from Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “If your neighbours had behaved like this, you’d have been disgusted. For the people running the country to do it and then lie about it, shows a complete disdain for the general public.

“We shared the same pain of grieving in isolation as the Queen did. And she must be just as sickened as we are at hearing this. Sadly, instead of doing the decent thing and resigning, we can expect the prime minister to continue shamefully lying to our faces.

“The Conservative MPs that are keeping him in power disgrace their country.”

Letters of no confidence in the prime minister

Pressure is mounting on Mr Johnson amid the fresh allegations, although he was said to have been away from Downing Street at the time of the two parties.

The Daily Telegraph's allegations came in the same week that ITV News published a leaked email providing the first evidence of a party on May 20, 2020, at the height of the first lockdown.

The email, sent by Mr Johnson's Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds, invited 100 staff to "socially distanced drinks" in the Number 10 garden to "make the most of the lovely weather."

Boris Johnson told MPs he believed he was at a work event Credit: House of Commons/PA

On Wednesday, the prime minister apologised for attending the “bring your own booze” party, but insisted he believed it was a work event and could “technically” have been within the rules.

Andrew Bridgen, the Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, announced he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister to Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee, on Thursday night.

The Telegraph reported that as many as 30 letters have been submitted so far. A total of 54 are needed to trigger a vote on whether to remove the PM.

In Westminster, four other Tory MPs have now publicly said Mr Johnson should go – Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, Sir Roger Gale, former minister Caroline Nokes, and chairman of the Public Affairs and Constitutional Affairs Committee William Wragg.

Almost all Tory MSPs supported Scottish Conservative leader Mr Ross' call.

Cabinet ministers defended Mr Johnson after his apology on Wednesday, but the late interventions of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Chancellor Rishi Sunak – both tipped as potential successors – did little to instil confidence in his future.

The prime minister’s official spokesman insisted the Cabinet fully supported Mr Johnson.

Asked about the delay in Ms Truss and Mr Sunak showing their support, the spokesman said: “What the prime minister wants and expects is the Cabinet to be focused on delivering on the public’s priorities.”

Asked if he believed he had the full support of his Cabinet, the spokesman said: “Yes.”