Boris Johnson Accused of Holding Garden Party While U.K. in Lockdown, Angering Supporters

Weeks after condemning a lockdown party held by his Conservative Party, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is now being accused of holding his own.

Politicians are calling for an investigation of an alleged garden party held by the U.K. leader last spring. Broadcaster ITV revealed a leaked email sent at the time to potential attendees, inviting them to "socially distanced drinks" at Johnson's residence on Downing Street. The get-together was scheduled to take place on May 20, 2020, after the U.K. government announced that residents can only meet with one person at a time outside their homes.

Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner was among the politicians asking for answers and accountability from the prime minister. In an address in the House of Parliament made on Tuesday, she said that Johnson's "absence speaks volumes." Another Labour lawmaker, Ed Miliband, called for an explanation.

"How can he lead the country through these difficult times, get people to follow public health advice, if he has so flagrantly breached the rules?" Miliband said in a BBC Radio interview.

It wasn't just opposition politicians calling for an investigation. Conservatives were also angered at the accusations, with former Conservative leader Ruth Davidson calling it an "utterly indefensible" act.

"It just makes a mockery of this idea that we were doing a national endeavor to keep each other safe," she said in a statement.

Around 200 people had died from COVID-19 complications the same day as the alleged event. In total, more than 36,000 people have died of the virus in Britain.

Be Clear on Covid Johnson
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to watch a man receive his Covid-19 booster jab as he makes a constituency visit to a Boots pharmacy on January 10, 2022 in Uxbridge, England. Johnson is being accused of holding a garden party in May 2020 on the same day that the U.K. government cut back on the number of outside people citizens can accept into their homes. Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images

The police force said Tuesday it was "in contact with" the government over the party claims, which follow allegations of several other rule-breaking gatherings in Downing Street during the pandemic.

The opposition Labour Party demanded that Johnson answer questions about the allegations in Parliament — but the government sent a junior minister, Michael Ellis, to face lawmakers instead. Ellis apologized "for the upset that these allegations have caused" but said he could not comment further because an investigation was underway.

During Britain's first lockdown, which began in March 2020 and lasted for more than two months, gatherings were banned with a few exceptions, including work and funerals. Millions of people were cut off from friends and family, and even barred from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.

Lyndsay Jackson, whose mother died of COVID-19 in May 2020, said the government showed "contempt for ordinary people and for the difficulties we were all facing."

"I wasn't able to be with her when she died, I wasn't able to hold her hand. ... I couldn't even hug my brother after the funeral," said Jackson, a member of the group COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. She told Sky News that Johnson was "beneath contempt."

Johnson's Conservative government has repeatedly been accused of flouting the rules it imposed on others during the pandemic, which brought the most severe restrictions on Britons' individual freedoms since World War II.

Johnson has insisted he personally broke no rules, but British media reported Tuesday that the prime minister and his wife Carrie Johnson attended the May 2020 garden gathering.

Health Minister Edward Argar said he understood why people would be "upset and angry," but said he would not "pre-judge" the outcome of Gray's inquiry.

The right-of-center party picked Johnson as leader in 2019 for his upbeat manner and popular touch, a choice that appeared vindicated when he led the Tories to a big election win in December 2019.

But the pandemic has shaken his authority. Support for Johnson is being eroded by discontent over social restrictions — which some Conservatives view as draconian — and disquiet about his judgment after a slew of financial and ethical misconduct allegations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Downing Garden
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) and Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison walk in the garden of 10 Downing street in central London on June 15, 2021. This garden was the same one that an alleged party was held by Johnson in May 2020 as over 200 people died of COVID-19. Photo by Dominic Lipinski/Pool/AFP via Getty Images