British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came under fire Wednesday after a video surfaced showing his staff joking about a Christmas party last December when the United Kingdom was under a COVID-19 lockdown.
In the ensuing fallout, including calls for the prime minister to step down, Johnson offered an apology to the public and one of his former aides seen in the video, Allegra Stratton, resigned as a spokeswoman for the COP26 climate summit.
“The British people have made immense sacrifices in the battle against COVID-19. I now fear that my comments in the leaked video of 20 December may have become a distraction against that fight,” Stratton said, according to the Guardian. “My remarks seemed to make light of the rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention. I will regret those remarks for the rest of my days and offer my profound apologies to all of you for them."
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The video depicting Stratton, who ended her stint as Johnson's press secretary in April, was published by ITV on Tuesday. She is seen being asked if she had seen reports of a Christmas party hosted by members of 10 Downing Street, to which she said, "I went home," before laughing. A different person then said it was not a party but "cheese and wine." Stratton then jokingly asked if "cheese and wine" were OK before adding that the "fictional" party was a business meeting where no one socially distanced.
If such a gathering took place, it would have occurred while the U.K. was in a Tier 3 lockdown that separated many families during the holidays and banned large gatherings.
Johnson denied that the party had occurred but said he was "furious" over the video. He apologized during a session of Parliament and said he was initiating an investigation that will be led by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, who has been given permission to look into reports of other parties as well. If a party was held, Johnson said those involved will be disciplined but did not go into detail on possible punishments.
“I understand and share the anger up and down the country at seeing No. 10 staff seeming to make light of lockdown measures, and I can understand how infuriating it must be to think that people who have been setting the rules have not been following the rules because I was also furious to see that clip,” Johnson said. “I apologize unreservedly for the offense that it has caused up and down the country, and I apologize for the impression that it gives."
The Metropolitan Police said it will not be conducting an investigation into any potential breaches due to a lack of evidence, according to the BBC.
Ian Blackford, the leader of the Scottish National Party, called for Johnson's resignation.
"The prime minister has a duty. The only right and moral choice left to him is his resignation. When can we expect it?” Blackford said during Wednesday's meeting of Parliament. "It is clear that the prime minister has lost the support of the public and now even his own benches. This is not a grin-and-bear-it moment — this is a moment of moral reckoning."
Blackford added that if the prime minister would not resign, he should be removed from power by the members of Parliament.
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Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labor party, also attacked Johnson, claiming the prime minister lost the moral authority to be a leader.
“Her Majesty the Queen sat alone when she marked the passing of the man she’d been married to for 73 years,” Starmer said. “Leadership, sacrifice — that’s what gives leaders the moral authority to lead. Does the prime minister think he has the moral authority to lead and to ask the British people to stick to the rules?”
Johnson had loosened restrictions in the United Kingdom during the summer, but with the recent emergence of the omicron variant, the government enacted "Plan B," which requires masks in indoor places and proof of a negative COVID-19 test at bars and nightclubs. He also requested people work from home as much as possible. The U.K. has had nearly 146,000 COVID-19-related deaths, the second highest in Europe. Russia has the highest death rate.