Boris Johnson Resists Calls to Resign, Apologizes for Garden Party Held During Lockdown

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ignored demands for his resignation as he apologized Wednesday for attending a May 2020 party during Britain's first lockdown.

A "socially distanced drinks" gathering was held in May 2020 at Johnson's Downing Street office, which is also his home. He believed the garden party to be a work event to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic. However, Johnson's office says he did not receive the "bring your own booze" invitation that was emailed by a senior prime ministerial aide to about 100 government staff.

At issue is the fact that the Downing Street garden party occurred during a time when millions of people were not able to see family and friends, even to the extent that they were not allowed to visit hospitalized relatives who were dying. Meanwhile, Johnson breached the very rules his government imposed on the public by attending the party.

Johnson apologized for the first time Wednesday, acknowledging attending the event for the first time.

"I want to apologize. ...With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside," he said during the weekly Prime Minister's Questions session in the House of Commons.

Johnson did not admit that he did anything wrong in his apology, causing anger from the public and politicians alike who accused him and his staff of ignoring pandemic restrictions by socializing during a lockdown where any gatherings were not allowed. He did not explicitly admit to breaking any rules but did say he and his staff always followed the rules.

Johnson said he understood the rage of people who "have made extraordinary sacrifices over the past 18 months...at the thought that people in Downing Street were not following those rules."

Johnson is also facing disquiet after allegations of financial and unethical misconduct against himself and his government. On Wednesday, a number of members of the opposition party accused the Prime Minister of lying, breaking the law and debasing his office.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, said he felt the British public thought Johnson was "lying through his teeth."

Johnson's conservatives have an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons; however, his own party is concerned about his judgment and leadership.

While Johnson did not resign Wednesday, members of his Conservative party are saying he must quit if he broke the rules. However, Johnson claims he did not realize he was at a party.

"How stupid does the prime minister think the British people are?" Labour lawmaker Christ Bryant asked.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray is currently investigating the alleged parties held by government staff, to which Johnson urged people to wait for the conclusions in the report. He said Gray would deliver "the full facts" in her expected report, which will be released at the end of the month.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized this week for attending a garden party during lockdown in May 2020, but has ignored calls for his resignation. Pictured, Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street For Prime Minister's Questions on January 12, 2022 in London. Leon Neal/Getty Images

The Conservatives picked Johnson as leader in 2019 for his upbeat manner and popular touch, despite the serial allegations of rule-bending and dishonesty that have followed him through his twin careers as journalist and politician. The choice appeared vindicated when he led the party to a big election win in December that year.

But support inside the party is being eroded by discontent over continuing pandemic restrictions, which some Conservatives view as draconian, and the growing list scandals. The question now is whether "partygate" might be a scandal too far.

The Conservatives have a history of ousting leaders if they become a liability — and a recent surprising loss in a special election for a district the party held for more than a century has increased their jitters.

Veteran Conservative legislator Christopher Chope said Johnson's apology had helped reassure the party.

"I think this apology has bought some time, and we will see what happens," he said.

But another senior Conservative lawmaker, Roger Gale, said Johnson had "misled the House" with previous denials of partygoing.

"Politically the prime minister is a dead man walking," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.