Ministers were asked to apologise to the Queen this morning amid allegations Downing Street staff partied on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
A fresh round of party allegations emerged last night, heaping further pressure on the prime minister who is facing calls from his own MPs to resign.
Downing Street staff were accused of holding two leaving parties in No10 on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral.
Staff allegedly stocked up with a “suitcase of wine” ahead of another round of boozy parties when Covid restrictions were in place on April 17, according to The Telegraph.
The drinking and chatting reportedly carried on into the early hours of the morning with one attendee allegedly breaking a child’s swing belonging to the PM’s son Wilfred.
The parties were to mark the departures of James Slack, Johnson’s former director of communications, and one of the PM’s personal photographers, the newspaper said. Slack apologised this morning for the “anger and hurt” caused by the party.
Asked if he wanted to apologise to the Queen on behalf of the government, minister Damian Hinds told Sky News: “Like everybody I think who has read this story this morning I was shocked.
“I was shocked to read it. I have only just read it, it’s just out in this morning’s papers and we will have to see what comes out further in the investigation.”
The security minister said it was a “particularly sombre time” for the country and the Queen when the events were reported to have taken place.
He said: “This will be part of the investigations taken on by Sue Gray and we must wait to see what comes through in that.”
He added: “If the details that are in the story turn out to be true then that would be...I mean, clearly people are going to form their judgment, but it will be part of these broader investigations being undertaken by Sue Gray.”
Slack, who was appointed deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper last year, said: “I wish to apologise unreservedly for the anger and hurt caused.
“This event should not have happened at the time that it did. I am deeply sorry, and take full responsibility.”
Announcing the apology live on air, Sky News presenter Niall Paterson quipped: “James Slack - able to provide an apology this morning, unfortunately the government minister not so.”
The events took place while the country was in a period of national mourning. Boris Johnson did not attend either gathering as he was spending the weekend at his country estate Chequers.
The latest scandal has been juxtaposed with photographs of the Queen attending the funeral of husband of 74 years, wearing a face mark and socially distanced from her family at Windsor Castle in line with Covid restrictions.
Johnson is facing anger from his own party over attending a drinks gathering in the Downing Street garden during the first lockdown.
Andrew Bridgen, Tory MP for North West Leicestershire, publicly announced he had submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister on Thursday night.
He was the fifth MP to say he had written to Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the 1922 Committee, calling for a vote on the PM’s future as head of the party.
The Telegraph reported that as many as 30 letters have been submitted so far. A total of 54 are needed to trigger a vote.
In a rare ray of hope for the prime minister, it was reported that an inquiry into alleged lockdown-busting events by senior official Sue Gray was expected to find no evidence of criminality.
However The Times reported that the investigation could censure Johnson for a lack of judgment.
The newspaper said Gray was expected to avoid concluding whether the PM breached the ministerial code, as this would fall outside her remit. But she is set criticise the culture in Downing Street, it said.
Gray is examining a series of parties and gatherings held in No10 and Whitehall in 2020 while coronavirus restrictions were in force.
The Telegraph last night reported accounts from witnesses who said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music. The two events on the same day are said to have started separately and later merged.
At the time, Government guidance stated: “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.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said of 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.”
The spokesperson offered no further comment on the allegations that a farewell gathering was held for the PM’s personal photographer.
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 his critics to wait for the findings of Gray’s inquiry before passing judgment after Tory MPs began publicly calling for him to quit.
Cabinet ministers defended 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 Metropolitan Police indicated any investigation by them would depend on evidence unearthed in the Gray inquiry.