Published: 12:14, 14 January 2022
| Updated: 21:10, 14 January 2022
Downing Street has apologised to Buckingham Palace after it emerged parties were held in Number 10 the day before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral last year.
Two gatherings reportedly took place at Downing Street, with the Prime Minister’s former director of communications James Slack apologising for the “anger and hurt” one of the events – a leaving do held for him – had caused.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister confirmed No 10 has said sorry to the Palace.
The spokesman said: “It is deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and No 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.”
It is understood the apology had been delivered via a telephone call through official channels.
The day after the events on April 16 2021, the Queen attended her husband Philip’s funeral wearing a face mask and socially distanced from her family at Windsor Castle, in line with Covid restrictions.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said Boris Johnson was at his country residence Chequers on April 16 and had not been invited to the events.
It comes as fresh reports emerged of regular “wine time Friday” gatherings in No 10 while strict lockdown rules were in place.
The Mirror said the weekly events are a “long-standing Downing Street tradition”, including under previous administrations, but that they continued even after Covid restrictions were introduced prohibiting indoor mixing between households.
The newspaper said staff invested in a £142 drinks fridge to keep their bottles of alcohol chilled, and that the Prime Minister was aware of the socialising.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “There is an ongoing investigation to establish the facts around the nature of gatherings, including attendance, setting and the purpose with reference to adherence to the guidance at the time.
“The findings will be made public in due course.”
Following the revelations of parties held on the eve of Philip’s funeral, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson should also be offering the Queen his resignation.
He said: “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.”
Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Ed Davey said the Tory Party leader should “apologise personally to the Queen” and that “he should also use that opportunity to officially hand in his resignation”.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove denied that the Prime Minister should tender his resignation, however.
The Levelling Up Secretary told ITV News during a visit to Manchester the public “deserve the truth” and said changes in Government were likely to be needed following the publication of Ms Gray’s report, but rejected a suggestion Mr Johnson should quit as part of the shake-up.
It comes after Mr Slack, who until last year was Mr Johnson’s director of communications, apologised on Friday morning for the “anger and hurt” his leaving party had caused.
Mr Slack, who is now deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper – which is understood to have been told about the leaving do on Thursday following a media inquiry – said he took “full responsibility” and was “deeply sorry”.
In an emailed statement issued by The Sun’s publisher, News UK, he added: “This event should not have happened at the time that it did.”
His party was one of two reported to have taken place that evening, which started separately and later merged.
The Daily Telegraph reported accounts from witnesses, who said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music, with a person sent to a local shop with a suitcase to buy wine.
A Downing Street spokesperson said of Mr Slack’s event: “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.”
Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale said the gatherings were “wholly unacceptable” and confirmed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson to the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs.
On Thursday evening his Tory colleague Andrew Bridgen became the fifth MP to have publicly said they had written to committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.
The Telegraph reported that as many as 30 letters have been submitted so far, with a total of 54 needed to trigger a vote.
However, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said people should “move on” following Mr Johnson’s apology over a previous bash on Wednesday.
Senior Conservative MP Julian Knight told Times Radio: “What I would say is that it will be charitable to say that partygate, if you like, is due to acts of extreme stupidity on behalf of those at No 10.”
Meanwhile, Simon Ward, a councillor from the Sutton Coldfield Conservatives, an association in a safe Tory seat which withdrew its support for Mr Johnson on Thursday, said the move reflected “local views at the very grassroots levels”.
At the time of the two newly-reported gatherings on April 16, Government guidance said: “You must not socialise indoors except with your household or support bubble. You can meet outdoors, including in gardens, in groups of six people or two households.”
Meanwhile, the former director general of the Government’s Covid Taskforce has apologised over a gathering in the Cabinet Office for her leaving drinks during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.
Kate Josephs, who is chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said she was co-operating with Ms Gray’s probe, adding: “Sheffield has suffered greatly during this pandemic and I apologise unreservedly.”
It brings the total number of parties or gatherings alleged to have happened across Whitehall during restrictions to 15.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister apologised for attending a “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020, during the first coronavirus lockdown, but insisted he believed it was a work event and could “technically” have been within the rules.
Members of the Government urged Mr Johnson’s critics to wait for the findings of Ms Gray’s inquiry before passing judgment after Tory MPs began publicly calling for him to quit.
The Times reported that the inquiry was expected to find no evidence of criminality but that the investigation could censure Mr Johnson for a lack of judgment and criticise the culture in Downing Street.
The Metropolitan Police said there is no change to its position on investigating Downing Street parties amid fresh allegations of more gatherings taking place.