LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was under fire on Tuesday (Jan 11) after it emerged his private secretary had invited over 100 people to a "bring your own booze" party in the garden of Downing Street during the first coronavirus lockdown.
Johnson, who won a landslide victory in a 2019 election, has faced intense scrutiny over the past month after a video emerged showing his staff laughing and joking about a Downing Street party during a 2020 Christmas lockdown.
Revelations about a series of parties in Downing Street have garnered popular derision, prompting quips from comedians and criticism by opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer who said Johnson lacked the moral authority to lead the country.
Johnson and his partner Carrie were among those who gathered with about 40 staff in the garden of Downing Street on May 20, 2020, after the PM's Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds sent an invite by email, ITV reported.
"After what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No10 garden this evening," Reynolds said in the email, ITV reported.
"Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!"
Over recent months, Johnson, 57, has faced criticism over his handling of a sleaze scandal, the awarding of lucrative COVID contracts, the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat and a claim he intervened to ensure pets were evacuated from Kabul during the chaotic Western withdrawal in August.
At the time of the gathering, schools were shut to most pupils, and pubs and restaurants were closed, with strict controls on social mixing.
So strict were the rules at the time, that police prosecuted people for having parties, erected random checkpoints in some areas and in Derbyshire, central England, used drones to monitor beauty spots.
Johnson's office declined to comment on the ITV report. A senior government official, Sue Gray, is currently investigating the allegations of at least five parties held in government departments last year during lockdown restrictions.
Edward Argar, a junior health minister, said he understood the hurt that media reports about Downing Street parties would give.
"I can understand the hurt that these reports, these allegations, will have caused, particularly for those who've lost loved ones," Argar told Sky News.
"It wouldn't be appropriate... for me to comment on those ongoing conversations or her ongoing investigation. We've got to give a space to conclude that investigation."